Aspen’s affordable housing board consider stricter upkeep rules to avoid ‘subsidizing garbage’
Officials who oversee the local affordable housing program are considering ways to force homeowners to keep their properties from falling into disarray.
Aging and dilapidated for-sale units in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority inventory are becoming a growing problem, with few regulations in place to rectify it.
“I don’t think as an organization we should be subsidizing garbage,” said APCHA board member John Ward during last week’s meeting. “That’s essentially what we are doing.”
APCHA board President Ron Erickson suggested a policy should be made that penalizes homeowners who do not do basic repairs and upkeep.
He added that reducing people’s home values by as much as 20 percent if their units are in bad shape would likely get their attention.
“I think some action in that area is necessary,” Erickson said. “Sometimes the units are in poor shape.”
The conversation was spurred by a letter to the editor published last month by Aspen resident Christina King, who questioned how a mobile home she bid on could be in such disrepair.
She explained that she won the lottery for a deed-restricted unit at 150 Woody Creek but would have had to invest several hundred thousand dollars to make it habitable.
King questioned how having run-down properties helps APCHA’s mission of providing affordable housing for local residents.
APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky told the board that the system doesn’t have any teeth when it comes to requiring homeowners to maintain their units, other than following minimum standards.
“It’s admittedly vague,” he said. “Right now it’s left to the buyer and seller to negotiate, and the rules of the game are rigged for the sellers.”
APCHA manages the sales of about 1,600 for-sale units in the program, and sets the price based on the resale cap according to the deed restriction on the unit and the overall guidelines.
Because there is a 3 percent resale cap on for-sale units and limits to how much a homeowner can get back from their investments into a unit, some owners are not motivated to keep their property in good condition.
“We are literally stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Cindy Christensen, APCHA’s deputy director, said Monday. “We are a broker, not party to the contract.”
She told the board last week that when she started in 1992, people in the system bought units “as is.”
“People would walk into pigsties,” she said, adding at least there are minimum standards in place now.
Christensen said a grading system matched against established criteria would be helpful.
Board member Rick Head said it’s only going to get worse as the inventory ages.
“It’s one of our biggest enigmas,” he said.
Kosdrosky told the board that perhaps a third-party inspection should be required at time of sale.
Ward said the buyer could pay for that service.
“We can’t keep handicapping people,” he said, adding he drives around the North Forty neighborhood and can plainly see the exteriors of homes in disrepair. “If you live in a unit, take care of it. There is a basic level of care here.”