The Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority has instituted cautionary measures to keep the public and its staff safe amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Pitkin County. While the offices are not accessible to the public, housing lottery drawings will continue to be conducted, and staff are available by phone and email to assist with other operations.
In order to qualify to rent or buy within the APCHA program, an applicant must prove that they work at least 1,500 hours a year within Pitkin County. That number is equal to 40-hour work weeks a little more than 9 months a year, and it is set as such to include members of the workforce whose employers do not operate during the spring and fall off seasons.
A pair of prohibitions set by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis this week — shutting down all ski areas and all restaurants for dine-in statewide — have brought an early off season to members of the service industry, retail, and ski resort workforce.
APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky said he has heard fears expressed that losing work due to the closures will result in loss of housing, but said that is not the case.
“This is affecting the entire community, and we want to be a good community partner. We are not going to be punitive toward our customers just because they lost their job or are temporarily laid off,” he said.
Residents already in the program typically need to verify their work hours and income level on a bi-annual basis. And Kosdrosky said that it is still early enough in the year that most tenants will be able to hit the minimum requirements, depending on the lasting effects of the town’s shutdown.
“It’s a little too soon yet to make decisions about what we are going to do if and when people fall under that 1,500-hour minimum work requirement,” Kosdrosky said. “I think it’s safe to say we are going to work with people who are affected by this.”
He said any long-term measures to address the consequences of COVID-19 would be handled on the board level. The APCHA board of directors has canceled their meeting scheduled for this evening, and will make a decision about the following April 1 meeting closer to that date. The board was set to address guideline amendments, and hold a compliance hearing.
APCHA staff has spent most of this week creating a plan to keep services running, despite social distancing measures that have been put into place by the city and the county. Two staff members will be present in both the organization’s Hyman Avenue and Truscott offices, on a rotating basis, except those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
Staff will be making no public contact through at least March 27, with an exception in case of emergency in one of the units that APCHA manages. Currently, APCHA has not taken any measures to assist with social distancing within the Truscott, Marolt, or Aspen Country Inn locations that it manages. Aspen Country Inn is meant for senior housing, a population particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Available housing will continue to be offered up through the lottery process and listed on the apcha.org website. Those with complete bid packets can email the office to place a bid. The paperwork to update packets is set outside of the front door of the APCHA office, along with envelopes that can be placed in the mail slot with the required fee. Anyone wishing to pay with a credit card by phone instead will be subject to a $2 additional fee.
After today, there will not be open houses for hopefuls to peruse a home before they bid on it. Lottery winners will still be able to view the apartment for a walkthrough and inspection prior to closing.
In January, APCHA began a year-long initiative to create HomeTrek, which will bring many of the procedures around seeking and maintaining housing online. It will also be a data archive, and could compile data in situations like this regarding who is at threat to being near the 1,500 work-hour cut off.
As the office works to put into place remote access, Kosdrosky said it hammers home the need for the update.
“HomeTrek is the future,” he said. “Arguably it should have been in place a long time ago.”
The program does not yet have the ability to accept qualification packets digitally. Applicants must bring physical copies of paychecks, bank statements, tax returns, and other documents to the office for staff to look through and assess.
“It does demonstrate the need for automation and seamless customer service where you can conduct business 24/7 without the need to physically come into the office,” Kosdrosky said. “Particularly in times like this, it’s hard to do business when you are still a paper based operation.”
As of right now the India-based programmers working on the new software are working from home but the project is on track. As with any changes to work requirements that may come out of the COVID-19 aftershock, Kosdrosky said they will continue to assess.