Aspen City Council members were united in their thoughts about proposed Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority policy changes during a work session Monday night.
The reconfigured APCHA board meets for the first time Wednesday and will now include two elected officials as voting members, one from the city and one from the county.
Skippy Mesirow, the city council’s representative, took notes during the meeting regarding his fellow council members’ thoughts on two resolutions passed by the previous APCHA board but never officially adopted by the council or Pitkin County commissioners. Moving forward, policy changes can be adopted at the APCHA board level without going in front of the two elected bodies.
The first resolution addresses a key definition of the housing program relating to the affordability standard. Mike Kosdrosky, executive director of APCHA, told the council that although the housing program is one of the oldest and most robust, it is missing a measurable benchmark for success.
“We are really the only housing authority that doesn’t have affordability standards,” he said.
The most widely accepted standard to keep a household from being cost burdened is for 30 percent of gross income to go toward housing. Different jurisdictions use different definitions of what housing means though, from just the cost of rent or a mortgage to a bigger picture about the cost of living that includes utilities or HOA fees.
Kosdrosky showed the council recent survey data that shows nearly 62 percent of the programs’ poorest renters are cost burdened. Category 1 and 2 families are the hardest hit, or those making less than $61,550 a year as an individual or $87,900 for a household of four. Conversely, a small percentage of higher wage earners are cost burdened, and in many cases could be paying a higher percentage of salary toward housing.
The council unanimously supported adopting the 30 percent definition for now, but also requested that more research be done about ways to help support the area’s lowest wage earners.
“We are looking at applying this going forward for new applicants so that we are not hurting the people we are supposed to help,” Kosdrosky said.
Hand in hand with the affordability standard is a proposal to keep people earning lower incomes from bidding on homes that have high ancillary costs.
Community members are allowed to bid on all homes that are designated in categories at or higher than what they earn. The new policy would only allow people to bid up one category, regardless of how much they were able to put down on a house or the monthly payments they were able to cover.
Because the APCHA system is a piecemeal of individual HOAs with a wide variety of monthly fees to cover upcoming structural needs, a cheaper list-price might end up costing the resident much more each month than a pricier home with lower dues.
APCHA sales prices are calculated based on the number of times the unit has been sold. This means houses in low categories can sell for more than ones priced in higher categories that haven’t changed hands as often.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein questioned if the entire system for setting the sale price should be addressed and Kosdrosky indicated that the sales price determination was among a number of high-level policy discussions the newly constituted board will be having.
“There's some big holistic things, including pricing structure,” Kosdrosky said.
Council members voiced disagreement for a resolution that would cut down the minimum size requirements for affordable housing units. Right now the smallest unit allowed is 500 square feet for a studio apartment and 1,500 square feet for a single-family home. However, developers are allowed to ask for a waiver and reduce those sizes up to 20 percent.
In the last two years, nearly every project APCHA has reviewed has been granted that variance. In order to cut down on the administrative costs of reviewing each request, the proposed resolution would just cut down all requirements by 20 percent but eliminate the ability for developers to request a variance.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who lives in a two-bedroom APCHA ownership unit in Hunter Creek, said that the town should be making housing that people want to build a life in, not one they are anxious to move out of because it’s overcrowded.
When developers are required to mitigate for the calculated increase of employees that new buildings bring, they can offset what they build at a rate near 2.75 people per bedroom. She said that means we have to assume that more than one person will be living in a studio, or that four people might be living in a two-bedroom apartment.
“If we lowered the credits they get, I’d feel a lot more comfortable reducing the size,” she said.
Hauenstein said that the local lifestyle requires room for residents’ recreational toys.
“You are stumbling over your mountain bike to get to your road bike,” he said. “I could support decreasing the size with the condition that there is storage available on site.”
The council supported a separate ordinance that would allow APCHA to pay an on-demand hearing officer who would be able to try cases of noncompliance, and impose fines.
Mesirow will now take his notes to the APCHA board, which meets for the first time on Wednesday, at 5 p.m. in the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting room. Richards serves as the alternate on the committee and will attend all meetings as well as vote in Mesirow’s absence.