Elizabeth Milias: APCHA apocalypse on Ajax Avenue | AspenTimes.com

Elizabeth Milias: APCHA apocalypse on Ajax Avenue

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

The saga of 16 Ajax Ave. has become a metaphor for all that is corrupt, chaotic, lawless and in decline about the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority, Aspen’s publicly subsidized housing program.

I first wrote about the free-standing modular home that has been under contract since August 2020 nearly one year ago when I described the lengthy escrow and agonizing process the buyers have endured while trying to buy a subsidized housing unit in terrible disrepair. Unbelievably, it continues to this day.

To recap, there are liens on the property exceeding twice its value, and the sale cannot occur until the title is clear. Currently seeking bankruptcy protection, which won’t happen until his court fees are paid, the seller, Michael Goldman, neglected the property for a decade before abandoning it altogether. He now lives in Denver.

In the fall of 2020, he ignored the contracted buyers’ requests to turn on the heat, directly resulting in burst pipes and detrimental water damage that December. Inspectors have since deemed the APCHA home uninhabitable. Professional recommendations are to scrap and replace it, but Aspen’s onerous permits, fees and regulations for new construction preclude this as a viable option for the buyers. Their original intended course of action was to gut and rebuild. Last year’s cost estimates were well north of $200K, and they’re far greater today. Added to the $304K purchase price when the APCHA-capped resale limit is $406K, this makes zero financial sense.

Recall that APCHA was fully aware of serious structural issues and the home’s condition prior to it being listed for sale. Once under contract, APCHA, serving as a transactional broker in the deal, effectively washed its hands of the issues, repeatedly directing the buyers to negotiate with the bankrupt seller on the long list of fixes.

No one was particularly surprised three weeks ago when 16 Ajax Ave. experienced a massive water main break underneath the home, a full year after the previous incident. This time, torrential water ran for over 48 hours, damaging several neighboring homes as well as a structural retaining wall, while fingers were pointing in every direction.

APCHA claimed “not our problem,” and the city water department deemed the issue the owner’s responsibility. When a plumber failed to stop the deluge, city crews eventually entered the home and turned the water off. Alpine Bank, which holds the mortgage, was made aware of the episode, yet remained silent. As the neighbors clean up, surely additional liens will be placed on the property.

In what appears to be some sketchy back-room dealings, the highest management levels of Alpine Bank have been slow-walking formal foreclosure proceedings on the property. For the longest time, no one could figure out why. It has recently been revealed that Goldman has a co-signer on his mortgage who, despite not being on the property deed, is making his payments.

APCHA says its hands are tied until foreclosure ensues and the title is clear, yet Alpine, feeling no pressure from APCHA despite Goldman’s known non-compliance with the program’s rules, has no current plans to foreclose because of the detrimental — and increasing — financial burden it would place on the co-signer, obviously a special customer. Besides, they’re getting paid. Today, the 980-square-foot “home” remains empty, despite our local housing crisis, in irreparable damage and deteriorating by the day — a blight on and danger to the surrounding neighborhood. All the while, APCHA and Alpine Bank remain in their conveniently irresponsible stalemate, ignoring the ticking time-bomb and disrespecting the contracted buyers with dismissive communications.

This comes as APCHA recently announced a pilot program to address the sale of uninhabitable units in its housing inventory, a growing problem particularly in the mobile home category. It has been deemed financially and often structurally impossible to require sellers to meet minimum standards prior to listing these older units for sale.

The plan is for the housing authority to purchase uninhabitable mobile homes in its inventory from sellers, replace these with new modular ones and then sell them. Newly adopted “seller standards” will ostensibly ensure ongoing maintenance by the new owners. The program is set to focus initially on the Woody Creek mobile home park, but given APCHA’s role in this ongoing saga, 16 Ajax Ave. should obviously become test case No. 1.

All the buyers want is a home of their own, which they legitimately won in the housing lottery. Having liquidated investments 18 months ago for the purchase, the buyers have not only been put through hell, but have incurred both real and opportunity costs: foregone investment appreciation, increased mortgage interest rates, payment of experts, time expended and painful uncertainty.

It’s time for management at Alpine Bank and APCHA to sit down tomorrow, take whatever steps necessary to clear the title, expedite the sale and replace 16 Ajax Ave. These two parties are a community embarrassment for allowing a clear case of non-compliance and willful neglect to escalate to this extent, resulting in the destruction of a home intended for a local working family and now damaging its neighbors. Figure it out and fix it.