Residents at assisted-living center accept smaller rent hikes | AspenTimes.com

Residents at assisted-living center accept smaller rent hikes

John Colson

The furor over rent hikes at Aspen’s Castle Creek Terrace assisted-living center appears to have subsided, although at least one family is only grudgingly accepting the official reasoning behind the increase.Phillip Popkin, whose mother lives at Castle Creek Terrace, said he plans to pursue further explanations from management at Aspen Valley Hospital about the reasoning behind the rent increase. He said he wants to know whether the hospital’s justifications are valid.”I want to know what the truth is,” Popkin said Thursday.AVH has owned and managed the assisted living facility since its construction in the late 1980s. It was part of a larger project that included construction of an adjacent senior services center, which Pitkin County ran.In December, some residents were upset to learn their monthly rent would be going up by as much as 22 percent in 2006. The notification came from AVH Chief Financial Officer Terry Collins in a letter in late November in which he said the rent increases were based on fees similar institutions in the area charged.But the initially proposed amount of the rent increases for 2006 had been a mistake, Collins said in a December interview. The rent increases have since been capped at 10 percent. Collins said the rents at Castle Creek Terrace had been going up every year since it began housing seniors.The project cost approximately $1.5 million, contributed by nearly 400 individuals and organizations.At least some of the early supporters of the project, including Dr. Harold Whitcomb, believed Castle Creek Terrace should be subsidized to keep residents’ costs low. Others, including then-hospital board President Walter Ganz, felt it should be viewed as a possible source of profits for the hospital.”That’s a moot point now,” Collins said this week. “We’ve always subsidized it, and we always will.”According to a budget document Collins provided, in 2006 the rents and fees from the residents are expected to amount to $536,700, while the expenses of running the place are expected to be more than $716,000, for a reported loss of nearly $180,000.Those numbers have changed, Collins said this week, because the budget reflected the initial rent hikes of between 6 and 22 percent per resident. Because the rent increases will actually be capped at 10 percent, Collins conceded that the effect will mean even more red ink.Senior Services Director Marty Ames said it is not the first time the hospital has tried to impose a large rent increase on the residents. She said a number of years ago the hospital concluded it had not sufficiently raised rents to cover its costs and tried to raise rents by 15 percent in one year.”We said, ‘That’s crazy, that’s too much,'” said Ames, who has been on the Castle Creek Terrace admissions committee since the facility opened. The hospital ultimately backed down and kept the rent increase to 8 percent, she said.Popkin and his wife, Lisa Zimet, met recently with Collins to talk about the increase. He said Collins told them a survey of similar Western Slope assisted living centers revealed that Castle Creek Terrace rents were below the average.Zimet said she and Popkin concluded there was little they could do but pay the rent hike, although Popkin said he will continue looking into the matter to clarify several issues.Zimet said they had checked into rents at assisted living facilities around the area a year and a half ago and “surprisingly enough, Castle Creek Terrace was probably the most reasonably priced.”And, she said, when the couple toured the facility and talked with personnel about the level of service, fees and other matters, “I remember … somebody said it wouldn’t be more than a 5 percent increase” in rent every year, a claim that Castle Creek Terrace resident Richard Sherman has also made.After Collins capped the rent hike at 10 percent, Zimet said, “That was something, better than the initial 22 percent. That’s not to say we wouldn’t rather see it at the 5 percent.”Collins this week revealed another change in thinking by the management – the hospital has reversed its plan to begin charging $10 per week for laundry services.Collins had initially proposed a policy of charging fees for a variety of personal hygiene and other services the monthly rents covered. The new policy could have resulted in charges of up to $32 per week if a resident used all the services once a week.Laundry services are no longer part of that fee structure, Collins said, although the rest of the fees will be billed to the residents.”So that was a little concession,” Zimet said, “but $40 a month for people on limited incomes is not inconsiderable.”John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com