Housing board kicks Aspen woman out of deed-restricted condo for non-compliance
After a somewhat heated exchange with the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board about whether she qualifies to live in her deed-restricted condo, Sonya Bolerjack was told this week that she must sell and move her family out of the unit because she failed to prove she works the required amount of hours in the community.
It was a unanimous decision made Wednesday night by the all-volunteer citizen board, and one of the last before it disbands to make way for a revamped board with elected officials next month.
The board determined that as a self-employed chef and chef’s assistant, as well as a mother of two young children, Bolerjack did not provide adequate documentation, including key income statements such as invoices and payments from clients, to prove that she worked 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County in 2018 and half of this year.
One of the necessary requirements to live in the deed-restricted unit under the tax-subsidized housing program is to maintain proper records to account for income and employment, said Bethany Spitz, APCHA’s compliance manager.
Wednesday’s hearing was a difficult one for both sides, with Bolerjack and her attorney, Gary Wright, asking the board to make an exception and give her the benefit of the doubt because she is a poor record keeper.
“But that doesn’t mean she didn’t do the work,” Wright said.
Tom Smith, APCHA’s attorney, said relying on Bolerjack’s word isn’t how the board works, which has to follow the letter of the law.
“You see the dilemma that puts the board in?” he asked Wright and Bolerjack.
APCHA board member Chris Council questioned how Bolerjack could afford the three-bedroom unit based on the annual income she reported on her tax return.
Bolerjack responded by saying some of her jobs are off the books.
“Maybe I don’t put all of my cash into the IRS,” she said.
APCHA was made aware of Bolerjack’s situation from an anonymous complaint made this past spring.
Spitz sent Bolerjack a letter in April notifying her she was under investigation for not working full time in Pitkin County.
APCHA had requested 2018 tax returns, W2s, recent paystubs showing hours worked and related income documents.
Bolerjack provided APCHA with her 2018 federal tax return, W2s, six months of bank statements and an “hours worked” report.
APCHA then requested more information regarding the tax returns because there was no supporting documentation to substantiate income or hours worked.
With no response from Bolerjack, APCHA issued a notice of violation on May 3 asking her to cure the situation by providing adequate employment documents.
Bolerjack appealed and requested a hearing in front of the APCHA board.
Wright asked for an extension so Bolerjack could get her work documents in order.
The board balked at the request, noting that she’s already had more than three months to cure the violation.
“You are asking the board to figure it out for you and that’s inappropriate,” said APCHA board member Valerie Forbes, adding there is a long list of qualified families needing housing.
Bolerjack told the board that she works far more than the 1,500-hour requirement.
“I work crazy amounts … it’s stressful,” she said. “I appreciate my house, I love my house and I would never put it in jeopardy.”
While Wright and Bolerjack appeared docile in Wednesday’s hearing, Wright’s initial approach to the matter didn’t help his client’s case with the board.
“I have concerns about the tone and tenor, which was extremely aggressive,” Council said.
Wright wrote to APCHA on May 17, scolding the agency for its practices and offered advice on what it should be focusing on.
“APCHA’s policy regarding anonymous reporting has become a weapon for frivolous complaints,” Wright wrote. “APCHA needs to be proactive with issues such as the lack of adequate homeowners’ reserves and the mismanagement and excessive charges by owners’ associations.”
Spitz wrote a week later to Wright, explaining that further information is required to prove the employment requirements for his client.
Four days later Wright responded, explaining why the information cannot or would not be shared with APCHA. He also threw a barb at Spitz.
“I share Sonya’s frustration that it is not apparent to you that Sonya is and continues to be an individual that is qualified for her deed-restricted housing,” he wrote. “The items you request suggest that you may lack the understanding or experience to accurately evaluate her situation.”
The next day, Smith responded by defending Spitz’s competence in her job.
“I am surprised that you would resort to a personal attack on Ms. Spitz in defense of your client,” Smith wrote. “In my experience, this tactic is usually employed to divert attention from the merits of the issue, or it may betray the weakness of your case.”
In a July 12 position statement, Wright again attacked APCHA’s aggressive enforcement.
“This case is the ‘poster child’ for everything that is wrong with the snitch system,” he wrote. “It also suggests that perhaps the issue of due process before taking away someone’s housing, needs improvement. … The snitch system is wrong. APCHA has extended the invitation to be used as a weapon against innocent homeowners such as Sonya.”
As the board was considering a 30-day extension for Bolerjack to produce adequate documentation, APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky interjected, and said this case is one of the most difficult he’s seen in his almost five years on the job.
“This has not been a cooperative investigation,” he told the board. “There has been a lot of pushback and obfuscation.”
APCHA board chair Rick Head said decisions to kick someone out of their home are never easy, but the rules are the rules.
“The last thing we want to do is throw this young woman out of her house,” he said. “Sorry, Sonya.”
Tenants at the city’s oldest deed-restricted housing complex, Centennial Apartments, faced rent hikes as high as 30% in January that sent city, county, and APCHA officials into closed-door meetings with the relatively new landlord, Birge & Held.