Elizabeth Milias: Baby steps toward a housing overhaul

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

Some very philosophical and long-overdue discussions are finally happening among the members of the Aspen-Piktin County Housing Authority board. At a couple of recent meetings, there has been surprising consensus among those at the governing table, newly back under citizen direction.

The Red Ant is delighted to sense a level of maturity in the oversight of the nearly 50-year-old program that has long been mired in controversy and lack of transparency. It seems that the early reports from the new HomeTrek database are simply the cold, hard facts, and amid what is widely perceived as a local housing crunch, it’s time to address them head on.

Just like in the real world, the housing board agrees on the basic responsibilities of home ownership of an APCHA unit: paying one’s mortgage, one’s insurance and one’s household bills, as well as paying into the homeowner association’s reserves account for emergency expenditures. And notably, the maintenance of one’s personal space made the list. This is new. And it’s great news. No longer will the sellers of an APCHA unit be able to sell a pigsty to a lucky housing lottery winner, simply because of the high demand for local subsidized housing. The preliminary plans are for a mandatory inspection prior to being able to list a unit for sale, with a report on life and safety issues, and livability, made available to APCHA, and repairs undertaken by approved contractors.

In classic nanny-APCHA fashion, however, this critical step toward maintaining our housing inventory for the long term is currently hung up on the “who pays” question. Who pays? Well, the person who has been living in the unit pays, that’s who. Why would anyone else be responsible? It’s perfectly easy to deduct the cost of fixes from the sales price of the unit. But apparently no, there is still a padded room with puppies for the sellers of abject pigsties. Several on the housing board want to allow all property owners to recoup their initial investment plus some nominal appreciation even if the home is in significant disrepair. Yes, they do. These are the same folks who are on the record defending those who bought units for an 80% subsidy, stating that they should not have to pay for repairs (because they can’t). Hmmm, perhaps we ought not sell units and instead rent to these folks?

Decisions at the APCHA board level can only be characterized as a few steps forward and a few steps back. At least there us a stated assumption that without changes, the problems will persist. This is no time to give up. Last week’s meeting yielded the approval of a new housing resolution that lowers the age of a dependent from 24 to 19 in order to qualify for a bedroom. This will impact new leases and purchases only, but it’s a solid baby step in the right direction toward right-sizing our inventory, where currently, the majority of larger units have less than one person per bedroom living therein.

There remain many housing-related issues as the board and the community move APCHA into the 21st century, albeit two decades late. These include whether or not to expand the Ownership Exclusion Zone outside of which APCHA residents can own private property, and how to address deferred maintenance and capital repairs from underfunded HOA reserve accounts. And that’s before we get to the elephants in the room: the 496 units (786 bedrooms) with expiring deed restrictions and the impending tidal wave of retirees in our APCHA housing. (Contrary to what former mayor and godfather of all that is wrong with our housing program, Mick Ireland, wrote recently, no one is suggesting evicting retirees. But we do have to confront the issue that a housing program mostly full of retirees will result in housing woes unlike anything we’ve even contemplated, and until we acknowledge and address this fact, things will only get worse.)

Another is the concept of guaranteed appreciation on a deed restricted housing purchase, which sounds a lot like an entitlement on an entitlement. While the APCHA board gives appreciation a critical look, it’s notable that the intent of appreciation was to support the owner in addressing maintenance costs, not generating a profit nor providing a nest egg. It’s also important to note that anyone who lives in our local subsidized housing program does so because of the generosity of this community. They’ve realized tangible and intangible benefits, and are valuable members of the community. But with those benefits come responsibilities, and nothing being asked should be perceived as taxing. Nor is anyone forcing anyone to stay.

The topics of “seller standards,” qualified dependents, private property ownership, HOA reserves, appreciation, expiring deed restrictions and the retiree tidal wave are just the beginning. Tackling any of them promises to be a herculean task. However, it’s long past time to get ahold of our housing inventory if we expect it to last. The APCHA board’s positive steps toward addressing the outcomes of very obvious, earlier, careless decisions and laws of unintended consequences is to be commended. Keep up the great work!

Elizabeth Milias can be reached at