Aspen’s housing program holding scofflaws accountable, focusing on compliance cases

With the creation of an enforcement position within the local housing authority earlier this year, all but a dozen or so compliance cases remain out of the 150 that were active when Bethany Spitz took the job almost four months ago.

“It’s huge,” she said of the effort made thus far in getting people who live in the roughly 3,000 ownership and rental units within the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority compliant with the rules. “A lot of it was following up and taking action on little things like a tenant who hadn’t qualified.”

There are bigger cases lingering, however. Six notices of investigations have been issued to homeowners, as well as three notices of violations and two appeals from residents to the APCHA board of directors.

Individuals who live in APCHA units are required to provide proof that they work a minimum of 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County, among other regulations depending on what the deed restriction is on a particular unit.

Tenants in rental units are required to re-qualify every two years by providing tax and employment information. Homeowners must do the same.

Prior to Spitz coming on as APCHA’s compliance manager, there was not a full-time person dedicated to ensuring that the thousands of people within the program are legally living in their units.

As a result, APCHA has had low response rates, which prompted the APCHA board earlier this year to recommend to city and county elected officials to pass a fine structure for dozens of different infractions that’s designed to force people to prove they are in compliance.

“We will go to 100 percent compliance, whatever that takes,” said Spitz, adding that the first goal of APCHA is to educate the public on what their responsibilities are when living in taxpayer-subsidized housing.

Spitz said a random audit done in August selected 20 homeowners. APCHA asked them for qualifying information. Only 50 percent of them responded, which necessitated Spitz having to issue notices of violations to those residents in order to get them to comply.

Spitz said next year the goal is to conduct five audits a month for homeowner units.

There also will be a census within the entire program, which will coincide with the planned $1 million Housing Information Management System that is designed to improve the system’s data collection, reporting and analytics.

Spitz said a comprehensive database and system will help manage all of the units in APCHA’s inventory, and who is living in them.

APCHA operates mostly on complaints, and many of them are anonymous. Those cases are more difficult to prove because it often becomes a he said/she said situation, Spitz said.

The board, which is made up of seven citizens, must make decisions on individuals’ appeals after they’ve been served a notice of violation.

The board earlier this year recommended to elected officials that a hearing officer be charged with evaluating appeals from residents so it can focus solely on policy.

With a stronger emphasis on compliance this year, APCHA has turned over 12 ownership and 25 rental units.

“We are turning over units for qualified people who are living and working in Pitkin County,” Spitz said. “And maintaining public trust and the integrity of the program.”