Aspen Times editorial: Aspen’s new housing board must take two big bites off the elephant |

Aspen Times editorial: Aspen’s new housing board must take two big bites off the elephant

The Aspen Times Editorial Board

After years of politicking and back-and-forth discussions among Pitkin County and Aspen elected officials, there is a newly formed local housing authority board, the makeup of which is designed to get things done quickly — a big change from the past.

We certainly hope it works, because there are major issues facing the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, and the thousands of hardworking community members who live in the program’s 1,600 deed-restricted for-sale units.

The board now has two voting members who are elected officials from the city and county, along with three at-large citizen volunteers.

Previously, the APCHA board was comprised of all volunteer citizens who made recommendations to Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County commissioners. Those boards had final authority on APCHA policy decisions.

One of the impetuses for changing the makeup of the board was so a vote at the APCHA table would force decision-making in a timely manner — rather than both government bodies voting separately on their own timelines, and sometimes vetoing one another.

The previous structure resulted in no movement on major policy decisions like how to address deficits in the capital reserves of homeowners associations throughout the APCHA inventory.

A 2012 assessment estimated a $15 million shortfall of capital reserves across the inventory, or roughly $9,000 a unit.

A few years ago, city officials proposed giving each unit a $10,000 grant, with conditions. The funds would go in the escrow accounts of homeowners associations and pay for capital improvements to common areas such as work on roofs, sidings and boilers, among others.

The city’s solution was estimated to cost $15 million.

The county had a different proposal that officials argue was more equitable — emergency, no-interest loans for homeowners associations facing dire situations. A loan, rather than a grant, would hold HOAs more financially accountable, commissioners argued.

The county’s solution was estimated to cost between $2 million and $4 million.

And the impasse of what to do remains. Meanwhile, individual homeowners, particularly in the older properties, are feeling the pinch as their complexes require repairs and replacements.

What’s at issue is that owners of deed-restricted units have no financial incentive to put money into their buildings when there is a sales cap on them, which leads to the other massive problem facing the 40-year-old program.

Outside of the common areas in the buildings, homeowners are not doing basic maintenance in their units and in many cases, are uninhabitable when they put them up for sale.

And because the demand is so high, with as many as 100 bidders on one unit, desperate people will buy it anyway.

But some won’t and they have made their concerns known to the APCHA board in recent years.

One board member said last year that the agency is “subsidizing garbage.”

While we acknowledge there is no quick fix on either issue, it’s time to get to work and find real solutions to these very real problems in what we believe is the most important program for the community.

We urge this new board to first focus on government assistance programs for capital reserve deficits and establish financial penalties for homeowners whose units don’t meet certain criteria at the time of resale.

The groundwork’s been laid. Previous administrations have left the ball on the 50-yard line.

It’s time to pick it up and run with it.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.