Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Lose your job, lose your home.
Lose your health, lose your home.
It sounds as if the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority is looking to win the coveted “Hardhearted Government Bureaucracy” award.
Last week, the housing authority took steps to kick Susan Johnson, a formerly homeless woman, out of her studio apartment for the heinous crime of having lost her job.
It wasn’t just losing her job, of course. It was being unable to find a new job – in the midst of one of the nation’s worst-ever financial slumps.
We should note that Johnson compounded her crime of not being employed by the additional sin of not being young – which, just to make things clear, means she’s getting old – in a community that worships youth.
And, of course, she also has committed the sin of not being rich in a community that worships wealth.
So, out she must go!
At least, Susan Johnson will not be alone out there on the cold, hard pavement.
She might soon be joined by this week’s new sacrificial lamb, Heidi Mines.
Mines’ story is perhaps even more outrageous.
She has been unemployed because she had the extremely poor judgment to come down with breast cancer.
What was she thinking?
Giving up her job on the flimsy excuse that she was undergoing chemotherapy and a series of surgeries clearly shows a flagrant disregard for the rules that say you have to have a job if you want to live in “employee housing.”
Mines, an Aspen native, has lived in her home for 17 years and raised two children there.
She claims she loves her home, but, hey, she should have thought of that before she went out and got cancer, shouldn’t she?
Will these people never learn?
Both Mines and Johnson say they have been trying desperately to find work.
Johnson, as quoted in The Aspen Times, said, “I’ve applied at the grocery stores. I’ve applied at the T-shirt shops. I’ve sent out more than 1,000 resumes. There are so many people looking for work. I’m like one out of 100 people applying for every job.”
Mines, according to a story in the Aspen Daily News, said she has “applied for dozens of jobs” since regaining a measure of health and strength. But, she noted, the vast majority of employers have not even acknowledged her applications.
In case nobody noticed, it’s tough to find a job these days.
Each of these stories, by the way, has a special, cruel little twist – above and beyond the obvious cruel twist of getting knocked down by life and then stomped on by the government.
In Johnson’s case, that twist came in the form of a notice on her front door that gave her a final 10 days to find work. That was cruel because it was followed swiftly by another notice on her front door (such a lovely way to communicate) saying the 10-day grace period was granted in error, there was no grace period and she had to be out immediately.
And, by the way, said the notice, the situation is now “not curable, meaning that we will not accept any proof of employment at all.”
Every sundae should have a cherry on top, don’t you think?
For Mines, the twist was even simpler. Her eviction process began when one of her neighbors blew the whistle, called in the housing cops – anonymously, of course.
Isn’t community a wonderful thing? God bless the caring neighbors.
Look, I know the housing authority has a tough job.
It is dealing with people’s lives, and sometimes hard decisions must be made.
But just because decisions might be hard, that doesn’t mean they have to be heartless.
When someone like Susan Johnson has fought her way back from being homeless, found a job, found an apartment and then gets blindsided by a failing economy – that’s when government needs to show its heart.
When someone like Heidi Mines grows up here, raises her children here and then gets blindsided by cancer – that’s when the government needs to show its soul.
OK, I realize there is no question that the affordable-housing program is a grand achievement that is under constant assault.
Some property owners want to be freed from housing restrictions so they can make a bigger profit on their holdings. Others, charmingly, just don’t want to rent apartments to the local riffraff, even though the employee units were required as part of the approval for their development. One delightful couple wanted to turn an employee unit into a “home entertainment center” for their adjoining (second – or third or fifth) home – and sued to get their way.
And a few years back, the housing authority was forced to spend thousands of dollars on a protracted lawsuit against a woman who had bought an affordable unit despite being far too wealthy to qualify for the subsidized housing. (This woman, a local doctor, reportedly owned $10 million in real estate in Hawaii.)
So, yes, there are real threats to the housing program.
But might I please call your attention to the fact that the real threats, the serious threats, come from “above” – from the people with plenty of money to buy and sell property (and lawyers galore)?
The threat does not come from “below” – from people battered by life and disease.
But there is one other threat I fear.
And that’s the threat that comes when the housing authority loses its heart and loses its soul and becomes just another mindless bureaucracy, trampling anyone so careless as to be lying on the ground in its way.
Hey! Get your face out from under my foot!
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“Many of these stoic commuters endure brain-numbing traffic jams so they can service vacant mega homes, making sure all the lights are on and that the snowmelt patios, driveways, sidewalks and dog runs are thoroughly heated so as to evaporate that bothersome white stuff that defines Aspen’s picturesque winter landscape and ski economy,“ writes Paul Andersen.