Letter: Hardship case shows housing system is broken

I am writing this letter in regards to the deed-restricted unit on Williams Ranch Drive that the Pomeroys were able to circumvent the lottery system for and granted by a three-person committee to purchase.

It is my understanding that the current owner, Mr. Hoffman, left Aspen to pursue out-of-state opportunities. Per the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority website, “The Aspen/Pitkin employee-housing program exists to help people who work within Pitkin County seeking home ownership or long- and short-term rental opportunities, and who would not otherwise have the opportunity to build a life as part of our community.” If this is true, the system should not allow a “leave of absence” for homeowners who are no longer working within Pitkin County and just wanted to try out another area for a couple years. But since they do, the housing authority also should allow a leave of absence for renters. In 2010, my wife and I had a combined 20 years of residency within Pitkin County, but because we had to move to lower elevation for medical reasons for two years, we lost that priority status and had to start over. We moved back at the end of 2012 and are still working back up to our four-year priority residency status.

The Williams Ranch Drive unit should have been entered into the lottery two years ago, and the Pomeroys, along with any other eligible families within Pitkin County, should have had the chance to bid on the unit. However, as it happened, the Pomeroys “knew someone.” All locals know that this great valley we live in, it’s not what you know but who you know, whether it’s a few free drinks at your favorite watering hole or getting your skis tuned. But the housing system is and should be a much different situation. It looks like the “know someone” system worked for the Pomeroys again. Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said, “I know Jim, but he doesn’t work for me in any chain-of-command center.” That may be true, but how far apart are their offices within the same building? Do they not see each other every day and are essentially co-workers? Was this really a Special Review Committee of impartial people or Mr. Pomeroy’s Aspenite cronies doing him a solid?

It may seem like the rules of deed-restricted housing are too much of a burden but that is the difference between public and socialized housing. Unfortunately, there are and should be a strict set of rules in place, and they need to be adhered to by everyone regardless of “circumstances.” No one should be above the rules and the rules should not provide any kind of loopholes. I too feel bad for the Pomeroys’ situation, but everyone has their own hardships to deal with. There are always going to be unforeseen and unintended circumstances that will require hard decisions to be made in a socialized housing situation. Should a committee of only three people be making these decisions?

After speaking with Julie Keifer from the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, she said, “There are more people bidding on units than there are units available, so some of us will just have to live downvalley.” I get that, but does that mean that a committee of only three people, behind closed doors, gets to choose who has to live downvalley and who gets to live here in town and then not release the minutes from their meeting to the public? This particular decision made by the Special Review Committee should never have happened. If there are really such loopholes for a medical hardship, there should be a public forum with either a much larger committee or a public vote. Why was this kept so hush-hush? Every person I have talked to mentions that Jim Pomeroy always plays by the rules for the zoning department and requires that everyone lives up to the same high standard the city of Aspen requires, but it doesn’t feel much like he’s playing by the rules in this case.

All in all, this situation speaks volumes to the brokenness of the lottery system in Pitkin County, and it’s not just the Special Review Committee that is the problem. There are many older Aspen residents who have had the opportunity to raise a family and work in town and lucky enough to own employee housing. However, if you are no longer working within Pitkin County, then it is time to downsize. If you’re single or your kids are grown and moved out and you’re living in a two-plus bedroom deed-restricted unit, it’s time for you to go in front of the Special Review Committee. Obviously I’m not saying these circumstances deem the requirement to be kicked out of their homes or the area, but there should be regular reviews of deed-restricted homeowner’s situations. Move them back to studios and one-bedrooms to give young, growing families the same opportunities. Or as Keifer says, “Some of us just have to live downvalley.”

Billy Lawrence