Elizabeth Milias: APCHA: Let’s fix this! | AspenTimes.com

Elizabeth Milias: APCHA: Let’s fix this!

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

In a recent column, I addressed Aspen’s powers that be regarding a crisis within our housing program. I received all of two responses: an acknowledgment of receipt from BOCC member Greg Poschman with the promise to read it and get back to me (he never did) and a long discussion with city councilman Ward Hauenstein. In other words, I was ignored by most of city council and the county commissioners, both the city and county managers, and the entire APCHA board. Apparently, the fact that APCHA continues to sell uninhabitable dwellings to working locals and families is not a problem worthy of their time, nor are straightforward and actionable solutions worthy of consideration.

However, the APCHA board did surprise me. Last week, the board elected to begin requiring a formal inspection of all units prior to listing a unit for sale; a great first step. APCHA even acknowledges that most buyers routinely get one as a matter of course. So what has changed? In short, very little.

By requiring an inspection before listing yet not requiring the noted fixes, APCHA keeps the onus on whether or not to complete the transaction on the buyer, especially in the case where the unit in question is an abject pigsty. The demand for subsidized housing in Aspen is so great that when one wins the housing lottery, it is common to close the sale, even on units in the worst imaginable condition. This is precisely why there is no incentive for current owners to maintain their units. APCHA’s failed policies enable this, and even with the new inspection requirement, will continue to do so because there’s always someone next in line, more desperate for housing than the first guy.

The new requirement proposes that APCHA pay $400 for each inspection. As the broker in each transaction, APCHA makes a 2% commission on each sale, so it certainly has the funds. An inspection adds a valuable level of transparency to every transaction, a protection previously not afforded to every buyer. But responsibility for the noted fixes remains in question.

While a step in the right direction, the APCHA board continues to neglect its responsibility. A mandatory inspection is an obvious addition to the sales process, but the recent decision ignores a major loophole. The inspection needs to be conducted prior to APCHA listing a unit for sale in order to provide the same transparency, but to the seller, so this party can make necessary repairs which will additionally serve to maintain the unit over the long term. This is the critical nexus where the inspection can yield the greatest results. APCHA must stop enabling owners to neglect their publicly subsidized units and pass these along. As bad as it is that some beneficiaries of this community’s largesse are so ungrateful and have so little respect for an asset that was sold to them for pennies on the dollar, APCHA, its board and its failed policies are far worse. They have knowingly allowed this to happen and continue to do so.

Is it really that hard? For the four bureaucrats on the housing board (Skippy Mesirow and Rachel Richards from council and Kelly McNicolas Kury and Francie Jacober from the BOCC), it just might be, but there are also four citizens on the board whose professions would imply they have the ability to recognize and address the issue: Rick Head is a Realtor with Sotheby’s, John Ward is the president of ANB Bank, Carson Schmitz is a relationship manager with Wells Fargo and David Laughren is the former sales and marketing director of this paper. Gentlemen, is it not the APCHA board’s responsibility to make policy that assures the existence and maintenance of a supply of desirable subsidized housing, per your own bylaws? This community is counting on you to step up and demonstrate real leadership.

Current subsidized housing owners who have maintained their units have nothing to be concerned about. No one is demanding like-new conditions. But for properties in disrepair, it must fall to the current owners to bring them up to snuff, whether the neglect is theirs or they “got it this way.” It’s unfortunate to have to clean up someone else’s mess, but the community’s blind acceptance of this destructive pattern of neglecting maintenance and passing the buck must end. The thought that these fixes might fall to the buyer (who won’t make them) or even the community who paid for the initial construction is simply egregious.

With today’s leadership, APCHA isn’t making the tough decisions. In the additional absence of an executive director, no one is in charge. We have a housing portfolio of over 3100 units, decaying by the day, and a housing authority that has none. It’s time for the APCHA board to strengthen and implement a decisive inspection/repair policy. If you’re not willing to take on the problem, you are the problem. An inspection with repair requirements will meet the transparency objectives and immediately help stem further deterioration of our housing inventory. It’s not that hard.

This is an easy fix. Next we can address the 496 housing units with expiring deed restrictions. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net