The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority will entertain a proposal from a private property management firm that hopes to purchase the Truscott and Smuggler Mountain housing complexes.
Last week, Ronda Weybright, CEO of RealAmerica LLC, wrote a letter to APCHA leadership suggesting the purchase.
“We have what could be a win-win proposal for APCHA, your residents, and the taxpayers in Aspen,” she wrote.
The second phase of the Truscott Place rental development was financed using federal tax credits dedicated to affordable housing. In her letter, Weybright states that the compliance period for those credits will soon be up, making it a good time to refinance the entire project, a specialty of RealAmerica.
She suggested that RealAmerica purchase Truscott’s phase one and two, a combined 196 units, plus the APCHA-owned Smuggler Mountain Apartments on Park Circle, an additional 11 rental units.
There is no dollar amount in the correspondence. Weybright makes it clear that RealAmerica would first want to examine the financials of the properties before committing to the project.
Potentially, the company would use new tax-exempt bonds to help borrow money that could go toward the purchase and rehabilitation of the properties. They would then use their in-house management services to run the complexes, including vetting tenants and performing property maintenance.
RealAmerica partnered with APCHA, Pitkin County and the town of Basalt in first building and now managing the Roaring Fork Apartments, a new affordable-housing complex in Basalt.
“We have appreciated the work that APCHA and RealAmerica partnered on in the Valley with Roaring Fork Apartments. It is truly one of the most successful developments in our portfolio and shows RealAmerica’s commitment to quality from both a construction perspective and a management perspective,” Weybright wrote.
Her letter was sent to both APCHA board president John Ward and APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky. Kosdrosky told board members at their regular meeting last night that he has not yet responded to the inquiry.
“I thought first it would be better for you to see it, and see if you want me to pursue a conversation about where it is they are coming from and explore what opportunities there may be,” Kosdrosky said.
The board gave Kosdrosky the go-ahead to continue the conversation.
APCHA only manages five rental properties within its stock of nearly 3,500 beds. The Aspen Country Inn focuses on seniors, while Marolt Ranch consists of dorms for students of the Aspen Music Festival and School that APCHA rents out to the local workforce in the winter seasons. RealAmerica is not interested in those two properties.
Truscott Place and Smuggler Mountain Apartments are the only rental properties that house tenants purely on a workforce-history scale. When units become available, qualified tenants can put their name on a list. The applicant with the longest continuous work history within the county is awarded the unit, provided that they meet other criteria.
Other affordable rental properties include subdivisions such as Castle Ridge and Centennial. The private landlords of those apartment complexes have full discretion as to who the tenants are, provided they meet APCHA income and employment guidelines.
Previously during the meeting, Aspen Councilwoman Rachel Richards, an alternate member of the recently reconfigured APCHA board, brought up an anecdotal story of someone being denied a renewal of his or her lease at Castle Ridge because the manager promised the apartment to someone else instead. Richards said she worries about giving the reins of APCHA’s inventory to more biased landlords.
“This could bring up the same concern,” Richards said. “An agency outside of our control deciding indiscriminately to renew people’s leases or not.”
She also asked that the city finance department get involved in the conversation early, as they are aware of upcoming capital costs within Truscott’s phase two. In 2017, the city spent $350,000 to buy out phase two from its original private financing partners. Significant maintenance issues are anticipated, and the severity of the issues may require temporary displacement of some tenants, or even a scrape-and-replace of the apartment buildings.
Jeff Ryan, vice president of development for RealAmerica, worked closely with the Roaring Fork Apartments project, and is familiar with the unique struggles of the valley’s housing crunch. He said when it comes to things like repairs, affordable-housing complexes still need to pay full free-market prices.
He said APCHA could stand to gain earnings that can then be put into other properties within the workforce housing program.
“The valley is just a more expensive place, but it’s also very rewarding. There is such a housing need there. If these apartments are not redone and they are lost to the market then that’s a horrible thing for the valley,” Ryan said.
Kosdrosky told the board that he had a positive experience working with Ryan and Weybright previously, and he believes the offer is worth pursuing.
“I feel comfortable at least having the conversation and exploring what it is they are thinking of, and bringing it back to the board,” he said.