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Proposed changes to Aspen’s affordable housing rules subject to public outreach during COVID-19

With significant changes to the rules in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing program on the horizon, officials are devising a way to gauge public opinion in the middle of a pandemic that doesn’t lend itself to in-person open houses.

APCHA board members agreed this week to myriad methods of surveying people for feedback on specific proposed rule changes, such as expanding the zone in which homeowners in the local inventory cannot own other property, or raising the length of employment from four to 10 years in order for someone to be able to retire in their deed-restricted unit.

A wide-sweeping online survey was proposed, where there would be “yes” or “no” questions, as well as a comment box for respondents to offer their opinions.

That feedback will be given to the board to make future decisions, with possible virtual public open houses to vet different issues that come up in the process.

“The intention here is this is COVID engagement, and in a perfect world we’d go out and do community meetings,” Assistant City Manager Diane Foster said during Wednesday’s APCHA meeting. “The survey is qualitative not quantitative.”

APCHA board member Rachel Richards suggested the survey go directly to those who are living in APCHA’s roughly 3,000 rental and ownership units.

“I do not believe in computer-generated surveys anymore. They are far too easy to juice up the ballot box with the comments, whether they live in the community or don’t live in the community, whether they work here or don’t work here,” she said, noting recently stacked responses by various groups regarding the density at the future lumberyard site where the city is building hundreds of units at the Aspen Business Center. “I want accurate results.”

Foster agreed online surveys don’t tell the entire story and lose statistical significance.

“We can segregate the results by audience, and because we are APCHA we can absolutely send something directly to them and that will be a statistically significant result,” she said. “Then you use your other groups, whether it be a link from The Aspen Times, and you always use links so you know where they came in from, and use that as qualitative data.”

APCHA compliance officer Bethany Spitz said the point of the survey is to determine whether there is consensus on specific rule changes, and that can determine how the board proceeds with decision making and further outreach where necessary.

“We want to make sure this is as inclusive of a process as possible,” she said.

She presented sample survey questions around some of the proposed changes.

The first question asks whether the ownership exclusion zone should be expanded outside of the Roaring Fork watershed or Colorado River drainage so that no future renter or owner in the APCHA system could own property elsewhere.

Spitz told the board that APCHA is seeing people in the system buying property in places like Paonia, which is not part of the current zone.

The second question would ask people’s opinions on whether the age of dependents should be reduced from 24 to 19 years old.

Spitz said a common complaint in the program is that families with young children are competing with families whose children are away at college in the same priority group.

“APCHA wants to make sure that units are going to families that will occupy those bedrooms the majority of the time,” Spitz wrote in a memo to the APCHA board.

A third question asks if APCHA should change the number of days a parent has custody of a child for that child to count for a bedroom.

Currently a parent has to have their child for 100 days of the year to count for a bedroom. The proposed change would be at least 121 days of the year, or one-third.

“APCHA has seen cases where a child lives in a different state with one parent and returns only for three months over the summer and one other holiday break and the parent is able to get a larger unit,” Spitz wrote.

Another question asks if APCHA should change its policy regarding transferring ownership of a unit to a sibling or a child.

“Currently APCHA allows an owner to transfer the unit to a child, or sibling but does not require (them) to meet the (income) category or occupancy requirements of the unit,” Spitz wrote. “This has led to many four-bedroom or three-bedroom units being transferred to a one-person household.”

The new rule would require the new owner to meet category and occupancy requirements, and have at least four years of work history in Pitkin County.

APCHA also is considering changing the work requirement of 1,500 hours annually in Pitkin County to a minimum salary of $25,000 for ownership units.

Richards and other board members said it will be important to state in the survey why APCHA is proposing changes to the rules, which will affect as many as 5,000 people who live in the system.

“I think it’s important to say, ‘what will this mean?’ or why are we proposing it,” she said. “The public needs to know.”

APCHA staff will continue to work on the wording of the survey based on board member comments. Foster said she believes a final survey could be ready by Dec. 1.

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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