Truscott energy pigs about to pay the price
December 4, 2010
ASPEN – Tenants at the Truscott Place worker housing in Aspen might start nudging down the heat and turning off the lights. Starting next year, most renters at the apartment complex will begin receiving utility bills for the first time.
Truscott residents should not, however, face the double whammy of electric bills and a rent increase, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board agreed Wednesday.
Utilities are currently included in the rent at Truscott, which means renters have little incentive to conserve, according to Tom McCabe, housing director. Housing officials occasionally spot open windows in the complex, located next to the city golf course, in the middle of the winter, he said.
“There’s nothing that encourages them to be thrifty with electricity and some are not,” he told the board. “We don’t have any leverage with our tenants to say, ‘close your windows and keep your heat at a reasonable level.'”
Truscott is a somewhat confusing conglomeration of housing. It contains 198 units in a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments that are all managed by the local Housing Authority, but split between two different owners. It was constructed in several phases and part of the complex is a former motel building.
The city of Aspen owns 100 of the units; those apartments have not seen a rent increase since 2004, but a series of rent increases were planned to bring them in line with the rents charged in the other 98 units.
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Fifty of the city-owned apartments, all studios, do not have individual electric meters. Renters in those units are slated to see 5 percent annual rent hikes for several years, starting in 2012, and those increases will likely go forward, since utilities will continue to be included in the rent, McCabe said.
Renters in the other 50 city-owned units, which are metered, will begin getting electricity bills, separate from their rent, as the annual leases on those apartments come up for renewal throughout the year in 2011. Rent decreases are now being contemplated for those tenants to take the bite out of the new utility costs they will face.
The other 98 units at Truscott are low-income housing tax-credit properties and have a different rent structure than the city-owned units. They’re owned by syndicates, but managed by the housing office. Rent for those apartments typically goes up annually, plus renters in those units will begin paying their own electric bills as leases are renewed next year.
However, McCabe and Housing Board members agreed, rents should be lowered in the tax-credit properties, as well, to offset the costs tenants will absorb when they start paying separately for electricity.
The goal, McCabe said, is to make the cost of rent and electricity roughly equal to what tenants are paying now, with the electricity folded into the rent, unless a renter squanders energy by leaving the windows open in January, for example.
“We’re trying to make it a little more apparent to those people – the price of their foolishness,” he said.
Some tenants would see a considerable jump in expenses if their rent increases and they have to pay the electric bill on top of that, noted Housing Board member Marcia Goshorn, advocating a rent reduction.
“In a town where nobody’s had a raise in two years, I’m having a real issue with bumping up someone’s [costs] by 10 percent,” she said.
Further complicating matters, some units at Truscott have electric heat, while others are heated with centralized, natural gas-powered boilers. Tenants with electric heat will face the largest utility bills and should see the biggest downward adjustment in their rent, McCabe said.
Housing officials intend to figure out what the average cost of electricity should be for each apartment size, based on whether its heated with a boiler or electrically, and calculate the rent adjustments accordingly.
Ideally, making tenants pay for their electricity as a separate cost will help further the city’s energy-conservation goals, McCabe said.
He will take the proposed rent decreases to the city and the owners of the tax credit portion of Truscott Place for approval.