Senior defiant as eviction deadline looms

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

CARBONDALE A Carbondale woman facing eviction from her low-income apartment said Monday that she probably will move voluntarily but still fight to change management practices there.Lea Cano was supposed to notify the Carbondale Housing Authority board of directors Monday whether she intended to move or challenge its decision not to renew her lease at the Crystal Meadows Apartments.Cano did neither, waiting instead to see how rapidly shifting political and legal developments pan out.”I’m going to leave willingly, but they have to give me the time to find a suitable place,” Cano said. She wants the housing authority to help her find a home and supply professional help for her to move.Cano is on a fixed income and pays $124 per month for a one-bedroom apartment at Crystal Meadows, which is affiliated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Finding something at a similar price in the Roaring Fork Valley will be difficult.

Even if she relocates, Cano said she will file a lawsuit to try to recover damages for the hassle of moving and the mental strain the ordeal has caused. She also hopes to use a lawsuit to force changes in the management of Crystal Meadows. “It’s going to be a hell of a fight, and it’s going to be fun,” said Cano, who turns 80 in May.Cano said her attorney from Colorado Legal Services is working on a formal response to submit to the nonprofit Carbondale Housing Authority. If she doesn’t vacate the apartment, the housing authority could seek a court order for eviction.Although Cano believes she is being unjustly booted from the complex, she fears that fighting an eviction in court is too risky. If she were to lose, she might be barred from other HUD-affiliated housing complexes.So Cano and her supporters are applying political pressure. An organization called the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and its new branch in Garfield County asked U.S. Rep. John Salazar on Monday to step up his intervention in the case.Salazar asked HUD two weeks ago to investigate Cano’s complaints about management practices at Crystal Meadows. Coalition member and Crystal Meadows resident Greg Chandler said there is no evidence that HUD is taking Salazar’s request seriously.

“It’s like somebody investigating themselves,” he said.A formal request for a congressional investigation was submitted to the Colorado Democrat’s office in Grand Junction Monday afternoon. The coalition wants Salazar to block the eviction while an investigation is undertaken.Salazar spokeswoman Tara Trujillo said time was needed to research the issue before she could respond.The coalition, which has 14 chapters throughout Colorado that advocate for the disabled and elderly, is working on an alternative plan in case Salazar cannot or will not intervene. It is prepared to engage in civil disobedience on Cano’s behalf, if need be, according to representatives John Reed and Dick Lodmell.Reed said that if authorities try to evict Cano without a satisfactory resolution to her situation, coalition members will show up en masse and risk arrest to try to block her removal.The coalition will get “200, 300 people down here raising hell,” Reed said. The group, he said, will have more effectiveness than “one little old lady.”

The management of Crystal Meadows declined to renew Cano’s lease March 1. Cano was told she has violated regulations throughout her eight-year stay there. Most of the alleged infractions involve not getting along with the management and some neighbors.Cano countered that she is the victim of retaliation because she complained about management practices at the complex and tried to set up a tenants committee.Cano appealed the management’s decision not to renew her lease to the housing authority’s board of directors last week. The decision was upheld in a closed-door meeting, she said.The housing authority won’t discuss its action because that would violate the confidentiality of a tenant, according to its attorney, Tim Whitsitt.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is