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Catching cheaters a long process

Tom McCabe

In Tuesday’s Aspen Times, Mr. Neil Siegel asks questions relating to the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority and the sufficiency of its compliance efforts (letters, Feb. 5). He states that there might be a “significant problem lurking” with regard to our compliance program, and further, that the residents are entitled to transparency in that regard. We agree that there are problems and that transparency is an important standard to maintain. Both the investigations and the reporting are continuing annual work-plan items.

The current level of complaints would indicate that there are more alleged violations than violations in fact, mostly because of misunderstandings about our complex regulations and programs. Having said that, we acknowledge that many people will not come forward and provide us with information that might well uncover other violations. The extent of this “bitching chicken” syndrome is impossible for us to quantify.

Siegel appears to think that the authority reports only to the city. We do answer to the city in many respects. In other respects, we answer to the county, and in yet others, to the housing authority’s board of directors. Often we answer to all three, as well as to the state and federal government. So to answer his question, “What program does the city have to monitor and guarantee compliance?” under-represents our obligation to report, and our oversight, by a couple of orders of magnitude. Because of these on-going, intergovernmental relationships, and as an independent Colorado multijurisdictional housing authority, all our records, that do not compromise individual rights to privacy, are public records.

The authority has one full-time qualifications specialist to deal with rental qualifications and compliance/enforcement matters. Another staff member qualifies all those purchasing housing as well as all other sales related functions. Additionally, other staff members cooperate with them as needed and collaborate with the operations manager and the executive director on a daily basis. They also work closely with our lawyer(s) on a regular basis, and we have a line item in our budget for legal work, which I doubled starting in 2007, and which might need to be supplemented again this year. Since being hired in October of 2005, I have made, across the board, aggressive enforcement one of my primary goals. The authority has never had as many active legal actions as we do today, and I see no reason to scale that back. I want to throw every cheater out and keep them out. If fraud can be substantiated, I will be making the case to turn them over to the district attorney for criminal prosecution.

Our formal reports on compliance are presented to the authorities board of directors quarterly (and are passed on to the city and county managers), and briefings on specific cases happen much more often. As an example, during Tuesday night’s joint City Council and Board of County Commissioners meeting, the housing authority lead attorney reported on our five cases in litigation, and on four others that involve legal action but that are not yet in litigation. These discussions were in executive session. There are many more being dealt with at the administrative level that might result in legal action, as listed on our website.

If anyone would like a more comprehensive listing of compliance issues, history and statistics, they should look to the housing authority website, not the city website. To answer all of Siegel’s questions by way of the newspaper would require several more pages of explanation, and such information can be found on our regularly updated website: http://www.aspenhousingoffice.com.

Thank you for your interest in the authority, and if you have any information that will help us apprehend cheaters, please give us a call and ask for Julie Kieffer, 920-5050.


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