Own an affordable unit and Aspen condo? It can happen
The city attorney’s office has concluded two couples who apparently reside in affordable housing at Hunter Creek and own free-market condos at the Galena Lofts have done nothing to violate the rules that govern affordable housing.The case came to light after Galena Lofts owners sued the Aspen City Council and private developers over a proposed Main Street visitor center building adjacent to the Galena Lofts.At that time, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority received a complaint regarding the alleged dual ownership, city attorney John Worcester confirmed. The housing authority has declined to comment on the status of its investigation into the matter or even on whether it concluded the same individuals own units in both complexes. Compliance cases handled by the housing office become public when the owner of an affordable unit requests a hearing before the housing board, according to Maureen Dobson, housing director.In fact, the housing board recently adopted a policy that makes the filing of a complaint, the initiation of an investigation and any compliance actions initiated against an owner confidential unless the client requests a hearing before the board.Worcester, however, had previously confirmed that he researched the deed restrictions governing both Hunter Creek units in question, at the housing authority’s request. He concluded the documents contained no prohibition against owning other residential property.”The complaint had to do with whether or not they can own other property,” he said. “I concluded that they can, under the deed restrictions.”The deed restrictions do require the Hunter Creek homeowners to reside in their Hunter Creek unit and meet the housing authority’s employment requirements.Worcester was asked to interpret the deed restrictions in these cases because the housing authority’s attorney, Tom Smith, was representing the Galena Lofts owners in their lawsuit. Smith’s clients are now willing to drop that action and have filed a motion to dismiss the suit.There are currently 1,324 sales units in the housing authority’s inventory – deed restrictions connected to each unit spell out the rules that apply to buyers, who must be qualified local workers. The restrictions include, for example, the rule that owners must reside in the unit as their primary residence and meet the housing authority’s employment requirements.The language of various deed restrictions, however, varies, depending on when they were drafted. The restrictions connected to the Hunter Creek units in question date to 1982 and 1996, Worcester said.New deed restrictions contain explicit provisions that prohibit ownership of other residential property – the idea being no one should occupy the limited supply of affordable housing and invest in free-market housing, as well.A set of deed restrictions for a Pitkin Iron condo, for example, would force the owner of the unit to either sell their deed-restricted residence or the other property if the owner acquired an interest in any developed residential property located in Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison or Pitkin counties. The provision requires the condo owner to list the other residential property immediately, for a price comparable to the sale price of other properties in the area. If the other property isn’t sold within 120 days, the owner is to put the deed-restricted Pitkin Iron unit up for sale.There is no way of knowing how many units have deed restrictions that don’t prohibit the ownership of other residential property without examining them one by one, according to Cindy Christensen, the housing authority’s operations manager.As units change hands, however, the deed restrictions for each residence are updated to reflect the current rules and regulations contained in the Aspen-Pitkin County housing guidelines – including the prohibition on owning other residential property along with affordable housing, said Ken Mayle, sales manager for the housing authority.The housing authority actually buys back each unit and owns it briefly as it changes hands from one worker to the next, allowing it to update the deed restrictions, he explained.”We are trying to get all the deed restrictions synchronized,” Mayle said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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