Ruling protects housing program’s foundation |

Ruling protects housing program’s foundation

Aspen, CO Colorado

We applaud District Court Judge Gail Nichols’ recent decision in Arnold Myerstein’s case against the city of Aspen and the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.

By ruling against Myerstein and for the housing authority, Judge Nichols has reinforced the foundation of Aspen’s affordable housing program and struck a blow against those, like Myerstein, who would undermine the housing program in order to make more money trading in local real estate. Myerstein, who owns 18 deed-restricted affordable condominiums at the base of Aspen Highlands, refused for several summers to rent six of those units to Aspen Music Festival students, as called for in covenants attached to the dwellings when Myerstein bought them.

Myerstein has complained that the covenants constitute illegal rent control under a 2000 Colorado Supreme Court decision that nullified the town of Telluride’s affordable housing guidelines.

For a variety of reasons, Nichols rejected Myerstein’s attempt to overturn the deed restrictions, and noted in her ruling that Myerstein bought the disputed properties in 2005 “knowing full well that the rental units within those properties were all subject to the rent controls imposed in the deed restriction agreements.” To eliminate the deed restrictions, Nichols wrote, would not only guarantee Myerstein a “windfall” by allowing him to charge free-market rents in the deed-restricted units, but would deprive the city and the housing authority of something granted to them when Pitkin County approved the Highlands Village development in 1998: affordable housing.

By now most locals recognize the value of affordable housing in the upper Roaring Fork Valley; it is virtually the only way that working-class residents, from cops to teachers to lift operators and waiters, can live in overpriced Aspen anymore. Affordable housing is the key tool in Aspen’s 30-year effort to maintain a permanent community of residents who live, work, play, eat, drink and volunteer in Aspen.

Clearly the affordable housing program creates a great deal of hassle and headache for property owners, developers and speculators. Many would argue the program takes money directly out of their pockets. But a vast majority of people with a long-term stake in Aspen acknowledge the value of the local housing program, and what it has accomplished for this small mountain town with gargantuan real estate prices.

Myerstein’s suit, along with a similar action he has filed in connection with other housing he owns, demonstrates his contempt for these community values. We can only hope that, should Myerstein appeal this decision to a higher court, that the appellate judges see the wisdom in Nichols’ ruling.

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