Milias: APCHA has lost its way
The Red Ant
I’ve struck a nerve. Good. Now, we can get to work. The issue is no longer whether or not APCHA is broken; it’s how to fix it.
And, what a shame. What was in no uncertain terms the gold standard of subsidized-housing programs, certainly in the Mountain West, has become a glaring example of what not to do. But, fix it we must, just like the airport and the Castle Creek Bridge. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
The program’s original intentions were pure, and, for quite some time, they served the community well. But APCHA has lost its way. This is not because of its residents. It’s APCHA’s failed policies that have enabled rational actors to operate fully within the rules to utilize our subsidized housing inventory in ways no one ever contemplated at the program’s inception.
I’ll say it again: It’s not the people who are wrong; it’s what the program allows, beginning with something as straightforward as eligibility. Working “1,500 hours per calendar year in Pitkin County and/or for a Pitkin County employer.” That little “and/or” is the remote-work enabler, and it’s there in black and white.
Then, there’s the biennial affidavit, detailed about employer and salary for renters, but an online checkbox attesting only to the 1,500-hour work requirement for owners.
It’s time to look critically at over 40 years of experience, combined with the near build-out within our urban-growth boundary, and ask ourselves: Are we really going to try to build our way out of our worker shortage without specific housing data to direct us?
We annexed land for Burlingame and the Lumberyard for massive housing developments, and we’ve recently altered our land-use code to allow subsidized multi-family housing complexes to be built anywhere in town. This may seem like the answer, but it’s fraught with unintended consequences — one of which is unabated growth.
Meanwhile, I’m told the word “audit” terrifies people. That’s not the intent, but it does make me wonder what people are so afraid of. An audit is simply a count with data queries on job, employer and income bracket to inform future policy decisions. It is vital to know which sectors of our community are under-represented in our housing program in order to react responsibly.
It’s staggering how strong the resistance is to this knowledge. The palpable fear of program oversight signals that there is either a lot more malfeasance than originally thought or widespread acceptance of APCHA’s overly lenient policies. All the more reason to look into it.
How about we use the word “census” from now on? In any case, we still desperately need one.
To be clear, any changes that I suggest are on a moving-forward basis, which means they wouldn’t apply to anyone in APCHA today. Current residents would be grandfathered in. Yes, this implies effectively running two different systems as one gets up and running while the other winds down, which may take a generation, but no one is suggesting that anyone in compliance lose their housing. It’s just that the status quo cannot continue, and we all know it.
So, stop the fear-mongering, especially about retirees. The 2012 AACP stated, “We need a focus on the issues surrounding retirement in affordable housing, as we are on the brink of a rising retiree demographic.”
At the time, there were 310 retirees in deed-restricted housing, and the expectation was for more than 800 by 2021. Despite a half-assed affidavit system and the $1.4 million Hometrek system that yields sketchy data that toggles between units and residents, a November 2021 report to the Aspen City Council showed over 268 units owned by those 70-plus and another 998 owned by those 50-69. You can do the math. The silver tsunami is coming, yet no retirement strategy has been discussed since 2012.
It’s time for ideas. I met recently with a former president of the APCHA board and gave him four actionable ideas that could be tested the very next day. These were straightforward, easily-implemented experiments that would inform potential policy changes. They were just ideas, but by trying them, we’d learn how the market might react. At the very least, we’d free up units. And each one dealt with utilizing the housing we already have.
My favorite is a limited buy-out test for interested retirees. We hear about people who are eager to move but have found out the hard way after years of deed-restricted ownership that the sale of their APCHA unit doesn’t give them much buying power elsewhere.
Let’s offer them a carrot. If a new APCHA unit costs the community $1.2 million to build, how about a $100,000 bonus to the first 12 retirees who opt to sell? Everyone wins: 12 retirees get an incentive, 12 qualified employees get housing, and the community frees up 12 units for the cost of building one. Maybe it’s scalable. It’s certainly no-growth.
That’s just one idea. I have several. While it’s really easy to criticize people who are willing to share their ideas, that never solves anything. If you don’t like mine, what are yours?
The key to our worker shortage is the efficient utilization of our existing subsidized housing inventory. I won’t quit. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net
Editor’s note: A correction was made to reflect that the author met with a former president of the APCHA board.