What started Friday morning as a routine eviction trial turned intense during the afternoon when the defendant took the stand and lashed out against the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority for what she claimed was “retaliation” against her for fighting them in a separate case more than a decade ago.
Amanda Tucker, 64, a former anesthesiologist who began renting an affordable-housing unit at the Aspen Country Inn in February, choked back tears in Garfield County District Court as she alleged that APCHA started harassing her over compliance issues almost immediately after she signed a lease.
Housing officials testified that she failed to report Social Security income in the application for the one-bedroom unit she shares with her son and suggested that she may have hidden assets after living a lavish life in Hawaii. But Tucker contends that the agency has bent over backwards to force her out of her home following a period in which she suffered several life-changing events, including spousal abuse, bankruptcy and her daughter’s battle with cancer.
Tucker, who is representing herself in lieu of hiring an attorney, described APCHA as “notorious in Aspen” and accused its officials of “coming up with concocted numbers and throwing their weight around because that’s what they do.”
“My family history is relevant because it is shocking beyond belief,” she said. “The events were so catastrophic and beyond everyday understanding it is easier simply to say nothing.”
She said she and her two children — her daughter does not yet live with her — struggle daily with the emotional toll of setbacks they’ve experienced over the past several years.
“Getting our own place for me and one of my children was a huge step for us and APCHA has been … unbearably difficult and unpleasant, and is now trying to remove our eligibility for no reason,” Tucker said. “The way my family and I have been treated by APCHA has been inexcusable and devastating. I have lost about 15 pounds since this process began six months ago because of endless notices to vacate, document demands and threats that are unwarranted … .”
In June, APCHA sued Tucker to evict her and her adult son from the two-bedroom unit they occupy in the Aspen Country Inn, which is owned by the city of Aspen and reserved for seniors and people with limited incomes. The lawsuit says Tucker failed to report income from Social Security and ignored requests for documentation to verify her qualifications. It also says that annual Social Security payments of roughly $15,000 gave them an income at the time they applied for housing, of $41,822, putting them over the $39,200 cap for two tenants based on 2017 state and federal guidelines.
Tucker said in court that her income in 2017 was $10,774, even with the Social Security payments. She admitted that she did not include the Social Security income on her application for the lease because she was embarrassed about her age and the fall from what was once a financially secure life.
Tucker, who said she works three jobs, disputes APCHA’s estimate that she will earn just under $42,000 in 2018. She said if the housing authority were to reevaluate state and federal income guidelines that apply to her unit based on 2018 guidelines, she would fall under the maximum income threshold. APCHA says the 2018 guidelines didn’t go into effect until after Tucker signed her lease.
During closing arguments, APCHA attorney Tom Smith noted that “enforcement isn’t fun for APCHA” or anyone else. He said there’s always a human, emotional element to eviction cases.
But APCHA has a legal obligation to follow the rules. If it didn’t it could be subjected to the loss of millions of dollars in state and federal tax credits applied to the properties its manages, Smith said. Without an adequate enforcement program, the affordable-housing agency would lose its credibility.
“If we stop doing [enforcement] the program would fall apart,” he said. “This isn’t a social-welfare program.”
Smith recited a list of what he called “falsehoods” offered by Tucker. He said he understood that Tucker has faced several life issues, but that said it was “inexcusable” for her to misrepresent the facts of the case. He asked Garfield County Judge Paul Metzger not only to terminate the lease, but also to award restitution to APCHA in the form of legal fees.
Much of Friday’s court proceeding involved Metzger and Smith admonishing Tucker over courtroom procedure. Smith raised several objections throughout the day when it appeared that Tucker was testifying and offering opinions instead of questioning various witnesses.
Several APCHA officials offered testimony prior to Tucker and Smith’s closing statements, including executive director Mike Kosdrosky and qualifications specialist Julie Kieffer. Much of the testimony centered around the housing agency’s inability to obtain information from Tucker after she moved into her unit despite repeated requests.
Kosdrosky primarily testified to the fact that APCHA has to enforce certain rules in order to maintain good standing for tax credits. Kieffer said she began investigating Tucker’s income based on the battle between Tucker and the agency back in 2006. In that case, Tucker purchased a deed-restricted house in foreclosure she was not qualified to own, based on her income at the time. APCHA’s decision to force her to sell the house was upheld at the district and appellate court levels.
Metzger said he would render a decision in the case during a teleconference on Wednesday.