Retirement age for affordable housing gets initial nod | AspenTimes.com

Retirement age for affordable housing gets initial nod

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

The proposal to change the retirement age for residents of Aspen's affordable housing from 65 to 67 got initial approval from the Aspen City Council on Monday.

In September, the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority recommended the change so that the retirement age would be in line with U.S. Social Security Administration guidelines. Housing Authority Executive Director Tom McCabe said there are a variety of professions in which workers retire earlier. For example, some school teachers, postal workers, hospital workers and government employees are eligible for early retirement. Under the Housing Authority's proposed guidelines, if a person retires before age 67 and want to remain in affordable housing, they must find a job working 1,500 hours per year inside Pitkin County.

"This is a community discussion based on a community asset, … and therefore, for them to stay, they have to find employment," McCabe said.

If approved, even if federal guidelines change, the retirement age of 67 will stand.

The council also discussed the issue of people moving to Aspen in their early 60s, obtaining affordable housing and then retiring shortly after. The Housing Authority requires that in order to retire in affordable housing, the tenant must have worked for four years in Pitkin County prior to retiring. They also must maintain occupancy in that home for at least nine months out of the year. Additionally, they cannot own any other developed property, or an interest in any developed property, within the Housing Authority's ownership-exclusion zone.

While there has been no action to alter the four-year window before retiring, council member Adam Frisch said it would be his preference to lengthen it to 10 years.

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"I'm happy to tackle that at another time," Frisch said.

Council member Ann Mullins asked about the language that will be added to Housing Authority guidelines that will define "senior" and retirement age.

A Housing Authority senior is defined as someone who is 65 or older, and that person is allowed to have as much as 150 percent of the net assets allowed at the top of their normal category.

"That's because by the time a person reaches retirement age, their assets are usually higher, and we didn't want to disqualify them from any of the programs because they've been good stewards of their money in putting it away."

The proposed Housing Authority guidelines were approved on first reading and will be up for public comment in November. The Pitkin County commissioners also must approve of the changes.

In other business

The council also reviewed code amendments aimed at streamlining the development approval process. In the past, council members have agreed that developers — within the current approval process — are bogged down by unnecessary challenges. A lot of time and effort are put into providing architectural detail well before a developer knows whether the council and community support a project.

To streamline the process, city bureaucrats have recommended that the council make binding the second step in a three-step process so developers know before the final stages if their project has legs. Right now, controversial details — such as mass, scale and land use of a building — are not ironed out until the third step.

In the past, the council has expressed worry that if the binding stage is moved up, the public, unaware that it had become binding, might overlook it. Staff has recommended renaming the second step from "conceptual review" to "project review." The third step, final review, would be renamed "detail review," with the intent of "emphasizing the importance of project review."

Council member Dwayne Romero said he wondered about the time that could pass between the binding stage and the final stage, where details like materials and utilities are hammered out. His worry is that developers, with months on their hands after the majority of a project is approved, might "shoe-horn" in extra details to a project.

"There might be an issue where (the project) needs to be kicked back," Romero said.

Aspen Community Development Director Chris Bendon responded that the council would be able to review any changes to what is approved at project review. Any changes to detail review would return to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Romero, even with that concern, agreed with Bendon that what is being proposed is better than the current approval process.

herk@aspentimes.com

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