Elizabeth Milias: Selling Aspen’s Slums

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

Aspen’s subsidized housing program is officially in crisis. A recent local news report highlighted what many already know, that APCHA is selling decrepit and uninhabitable pigsties to winners of the housing lottery. This disgraceful reality is the result of years of utter disregard for our housing inventory by those who we’ve sold units to. Given the known demand for housing, residents literally destroy their properties with the knowledge that desperate buyers will line up to purchase whatever comes available.

Recent cases have featured buyers who won the lottery, only to find that their subsidized slice of the Aspen pie would require nearly twice the purchase price to make the unit habitable. How can APCHA continue to sell such hovels? Why does the APCHA board enable the destruction of such valuable community assets? Is anyone in charge?

Ideally, APCHA should buy back all units as they become available and convert them into rentals. The rent collected would cover reserves that can be put toward repairs and preventative maintenance of the individual complexes. Instead, these critical assets have been neglected for decades, the result of the unintended consequences of Aspen’s failed experiment to sell subsidized units. Short of buying back all units, at least buy back the lowest categories. This is where the bulk of the problems lie because we have been selling units to people who do not understand the responsibilities of home ownership, do not care, and would be far better served by rentals.

Subsidized housing is a privilege, not an entitlement. The sooner the community acknowledges this, the better. The maximum 3% appreciation should not be guaranteed, rather, it should be tied to visible and measurable unit improvements, the inspected condition of a unit prior to sale and the fiscal health of the HOA reserves at the complex. Isn’t that obvious? There is no reason why HOA financial health should not be a factor in appreciation. We know reserves are in shambles program-wide, but positive trend lines should be rewarded. Yes, there will be some subjectivity, but it is long past time that APCHA starts actually managing these valuable community assets because they are certainly not managing themselves. APCHA purchases should also be subject to the 1.5% real estate transfer tax. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and it entirely appropriate for subsidized housing owners to have a little skin in the game.

It is high time to add a formal, third-party inspection to the sales process. All APHCA owners should be made aware of an established set of maintenance standards. Getting a unit fixed up for sale is an obvious requirement in a civilized society. This will also put the financial requirement for necessary fixes squarely in the hands of the seller, where they belong. Just because people have been willing to buy a pigsty, APCHA should no longer allow it. It is APCHA’s responsibility to properly manage and maintain our housing inventory, and selling pigsties sends the signal that this is okay. It is most certainly not, and it contributes to further disrepair and deterioration.

A question for local mortgage lenders: Are you seriously still writing mortgages without inspections of these decrepit properties? It seems mighty irresponsible. Perhaps you too ought to take a close look at what your loans are going toward.

To date, there has been little to no will on the APCHA board to actually improve the program. Years of talk has resulted in a couple evictions, but not much else. Based on a recent governance change, the board is ineffectively and controversially comprised of four citizens and two representatives each from city council and the BOCC. The electeds are inherently conflicted in their roles on this board, and several of them as well as several citizen members are also subsidized housing residents. This presents a concerning level of self-dealing.

Here are three changes that should be immediately implemented to save our housing program:

Conduct a program census. This integral component of knowing what we have and who lives where is at the heart of good program governance, and is decades overdue. Besides, we need accurate data to ascertain what it is we actually need for the future.

Update the sales process. Establish maintenance standards, add a formal inspection, and tie appreciation to the physical and financial condition of the unit and complex.

Improve APHCA governance. Get the electeds and subsidized housing residents off the board, assert the independence of APCHA from the city and county, and hold board members to account for maintaining the integrity of our housing program.

A challenge for housing board members Skippy Mesirow (chair), Rachel Richards, Francie Jacober, Kelly McNicholas-Kury, John Ward, Rick Head, Carson Schmitz and David Laughren: What is your willingness to fix our housing program? Will you demand a long-overdue census? Will you require inspections when selling units to protect the long-term survival of our housing stock? Will you acknowledge the need for strict program oversight, even if it means you’re no longer on the board?

APCHA’s problems are a community embarrassment. It is up to the APCHA board to do the right thing. Now.

Any APCHA board member who is opposed to wholesale program change is not solving the problem, they are the problem. Contact