The housing board voted on Thursday that the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) should be dismissed from a lawsuit centering around construction defects at Burlingame Ranch.
The Burlingame homeowners association originally brought forward the case against APCHA and the city of Aspen last April. The suit claims that the two agencies sold new Burlingame units with cracked exterior siding. In October, the HOA filed an amended complaint that additionally named contractor Shaw Construction and siding manufacturer CertainTeed Corp. for incorrectly installing the siding and selling faulty material, respectively. The two construction companies have since filed third-party suits against the project’s subcontractors.
The housing authority was not involved in the development of Burlingame and should not be held responsible for the complex’s construction deficiencies, said Tom McCabe, APCHA director. The city completed the first phase of Burlingame, which has 91 units, in 2008. Construction on the project’s second phase begins this year.
It’s a common misconception that APCHA is responsible for the development of all of the community’s affordable housing, but that is not the case, McCabe said.
The last project built by APCHA was Snyder Park, which was constructed in 1999. Since then, the city has taken on developing new affordable housing complexes, McCabe said.
“APCHA has no part in the building of housing anymore,” he said. “And we haven’t for a long time.”
In the case of Burlingame, the housing authority served as the selling agent for the city. Upon sale, APCHA ensures that the buyers are qualified to live in subsidized housing and it earns a commission fee that funds its operations. Other than playing that limited role, the housing authority had no involvement in Burlingame Ranch, McCabe argued.
Ultimately, it doesn’t make sense to enjoin APCHA in a lawsuit based on material structure deficiencies, he said.
“You’re pointing the gun in the wrong direction because we had nothing to do with it,” McCabe said.
City Attorney Jim True agreed that the housing authority had no involvement in the legal claims made in the lawsuit.
Chris Rhody, an attorney representing the Burlingame HOA, said he wasn’t aware that the housing authority was interested in being dismissed from the case.
“Off the top of my head, I don’t know why they would be seeking to be removed from the lawsuit,” Rhody said.
It makes sense that the housing authority is a responsible party because it was the entity that sold the units, Rhody said.
McCabe argued that the misplaced blame on APCHA in the lawsuit stems from widespread confusion about the housing authority’s role.
The same confusion spurred a backlash against APCHA after it proposed to raise development fees last month. At the time, the housing authority suggested that developers pay double what they currently do to mitigate for their projects in a way that better represents the actual cost of building new housing in Aspen. Although APCHA spearheaded the effort, those new fees ultimately benefit the city because it is the entity that is building housing, McCabe said. Still, the housing authority received most of the heat for the proposed policy, he said.
“The perception that APCHA controls the development of these things is a complete misunderstanding,” McCabe said. “And it persists and those of us at APCHA get wearied because everybody wants to yell at us.”