Elizabeth Milias: Set for life in APCHA housing | AspenTimes.com

Elizabeth Milias: Set for life in APCHA housing

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

Ours is the oldest and largest mountain resort workforce housing program in North America. According to its own description, “APCHA is an independent, multi-jurisdictional housing authority designed to oversee housing for persons of low, moderate and middle incomes who are permanent residents and work full-time in the city and county.” But we all know it’s not just for middle and lower incomes, nor is it strictly for the active workforce.

Winning the ownership housing lottery is truly a life-changing event. Beyond the obvious roof-over-your-head benefits, there are surprising upsides to purchasing Aspen’s publicly-subsidized, deed restricted housing.

APCHA purchases are not subject to the RETT. All property transactions in the city of Aspen are subject to a 1.5% real estate transfer tax, with 1% going to the housing fund. In 2021, the housing portion of the RETT hauled in $31 million. Yet, in-town APCHA beneficiaries don’t contribute and therefore have no skin in the game.

There is no income cap for RO Category housing. But a buyer’s net assets cannot exceed $2.445 million at the time of purchase. The “Resident Occupied” category was created so that higher income households (doctors, lawyers, architects, real estate agents) also have access to subsidized housing because of their benefit to the community.

You can convey your APCHA unit to your kid. If your kid is a qualified buyer who meets the one-person-per-bedroom-minus-one minimum occupancy requirement, for a $1,000 conveyance fee, your kid can avoid the bid process and lottery and you can simply transfer the ownership of your unit. With a documented 10-year local work history, the minimum occupancy is waived.

After purchase, there are no income or asset limits. Once you own your unit, there is no requirement to maintain nor report your income or asset levels, nor must you maintain a minimum occupancy. A financial windfall, an inheritance and an empty nest are permitted, as long as you remain in residency and employment compliance.

In-complex priority rewards those already in the system. After one year of living there, you can bypass the lottery to upgrade your unit within the same complex. If your neighbor has the same idea, whoever has the longer local work history gets the keys.

You can work for Google from your APCHA unit. If you have a dependent and your spouse continues to work a minimum of 1,500 hours a year for a qualified local employer, with residency compliance, you can take a job with any business anywhere and haul in the big bucks.

Your APCHA unit appreciates. APCHA units increase in value using simple appreciation of 3% or CPI, whichever is less, per year, for each year the unit is owned. The long-term impacts of compounding appreciation results in significant payouts to those moving out while pressuring new buyers to pay above the category max, absorbing the cost despite their income limitations. By enabling owners to realize these capital gains, APCHA is driving the market for higher salaried employees to purchase housing.

Your maximum sale price includes improvements. When selling, the formula to determine your maximum sales price includes purchase price, appreciation, and the present value of approved capital improvements, not to exceed 10% of the purchase price. Improvements for health and safety (energy efficiency, green projects) are exempt from the 10% limit.

You can retire in your APCHA unit as early as age 62. At 62, with a 30-year documented history of work including 15 years immediately preceding, you can retire in your APCHA unit. Otherwise, it’s 65, with just four years of local employment. As a retiree, while required to live at least nine months of the year there, you can leave your unit vacant for up to three months with no requirement to rent it.

The affidavit does not ask where you work or what you do. APCHA’s biennial requalification affidavit is online, so all you need to do is electronically check a box that attests to your residency and employment compliance. APCHA asks no questions about where you work or what you do.

You can own property outside the OEZ. Neither you nor your spouse may own other real estate within the designated Ownership Exclusion Zone: the Roaring Fork and Colorado River drainages. Beyond these boundaries, it’s fair game. That’s how we have owners of French vineyards and chateaus and Costa Rican beach villas in APCHA housing. Our tax dollars are supporting vacation homes in other resorts while the owners live affordably in Aspen.

We certainly do have a housing crisis. “The system” has evolved to specifically benefit those already in it, and provides advantages equivalent to those of the free market but at a deeply discounted, publicly subsidized rate. The roaring real estate market in Aspen has undeniably driven up demand for subsidized housing; however, the ever-growing list of amenities and perks baked into the program should not be overlooked as a major contributor.

For those already “in,” they’re set for life. But the model is an unquestionably unsustainable social compact that warrants a serious philosophical discussion on a moving-forward basis, especially if we ever intend to actually house the workforce.

It’s a great deal if you can get it. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net