The housing board directed staff in a meeting last week to send out requalification affidavits to homeowners, despite the fact that board members recognize the method lacks teeth for ensuring compliance.
APCHA qualifications specialist Julie Kieffer asked the housing board for direction on whether to send out the documents when about 15 percent of homeowners don’t return them.
Every two years, the housing authority sends out affidavits that must be signed, notarized and returned to the housing office in order for an affordable housing homeowner to be considered in compliance. The three main qualifications to live in affordable housing are that the individual must work a minimum of 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County, not own other property in the valley and maintain that the unit is his or her sole residence. If an owner signs an affidavit and is found in violation, he or she is liable for perjury.
In February 2011, APCHA sent out about 1,400 affidavits, but by the end of the year hadn’t heard back from 199 homeowners. Some may be withholding the documents intentionally, Kieffer said.
Board member Steve Stunda asked why it’s so difficult to get people sign the affidavits and why there isn’t a staff person dedicated to chasing those homeowners down.
The housing office has a limited staff and budget so most homeowners who don’t respond go unchecked, Tom McCabe, APCHA executive director, said at the meeting. Kieffer is the only staff member responsible for responding to and enforcing compliance. In addition to her enforcement duties, Kieffer is also responsible for processing over 900 affordable housing applications annually.
“We followed up,” McCabe said. “Julie would follow up, but at the end of the day we would have a population of people who never responded.”
There are also some neighborhoods that have a low rate of returning affidavits, because the housing authority doesn’t have the ability to freeze the appreciation on their units or APCHA can’t force homeowners to sell their unit, according to the deed restrictions, McCabe noted. That means there isn’t a way for the housing authority to enforce compliance.
Tom Smith, APCHA attorney, noted that the housing authority has consistently been given the direction from Pitkin County commissioners and Aspen City Council not to implement an aggressive, “Gestapo-type” system to ensure compliance. The housing authority operates under an inter-governmental agreement with the county and city and currently APCHA has a complaint driven enforcement policy.
“Generally speaking there’s not a desire to have a particularly aggressive enforcement program other than the random auditing and [sending] the affidavits,” Smith said. “They wanted it complaint driven and that’s what we have.”
Board member Ron Erickson suggested that language be included in the affidavit that says homeowners who don’t return the document are assumed to be out of compliance. They would then be required to request a hearing with the board, come into compliance by signing the affidavit, submit to an audit or else list their unit for sale.
“That would give you the most teeth we have in these things,” Erickson said.
That can be incorporated into the current guidelines, but many of the deed restrictions operate according to the APCHA guidelines that were in place at the time the deed was created, said Cindy Christensen, APCHA operations manager.
The board decided to continue to send affidavits to all homeowners and directed staff to “vigorously pursue” homeowners who don’t respond by continuing an audit the housing authority began last year.
In October, the housing board directed staff to audit homeowners who didn’t return the affidavits. Kieffer began with a small sample of 11 homeowners and asked them to provide the housing authority with their most recent tax return. It took multiple attempts by Kieffer over a six-month period to get nine homeowners to submit the requested documents. APCHA will likely move forward with eviction proceedings against the two homeowners who haven’t responded, she said. Still, Kieffer thinks the pair are in compliance but are just ignoring the request, she said.
APCHA staff has not determined how many homeowners the next audit will target, but Kieffer plans on moving forward with it after she sends out the affidavits next week, she said.