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$16 million investment up for discussion

Alycin Bektesh
Aspen Public Radio

 A major overhaul to affordable housing capital reserves has been suggested to the Aspen City Council - now public feedback is being sought on the measure.

All parties are in agreement: a shortfall in capital reserves in the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority’s deed restricted properties is a problem. Homeowners and county and city officials all also agree that there is not much incentive for deed-restricted owners to invest in the long term upkeep of their properties.


“You almost always get the maximum price according to your deed restriction, whether the unit is well kept or not” said Barry Crook, Aspen Assistant City Manager Barry Crook. Crook is the the lead author of a proposal to overhaul APCHA’s capital reserve system.

On Monday, Aspen city council will accept feedback on the proposal but a press release from the city states there will be no information presented by staff.


There are approximately 75 homeowners associations spread across APCHA’s holdings. Some have plenty of money in reserve accounts, set aside for emergencies or expensive long-term upkeep. Some, like the Centennial housing complex, do not have enough savings, and can’t address minimum upkeep -- let alone severe foundation and structural issues.


When combined, the average shortfall per home is ten thousand dollars. Thus the proposal to create an individual escrow account for APCHA’s 1600 deed restricted homes, stocked with $10,000 in it. Councilmember Adam Frisch has been working closely on affordable housing for years through his work on council and the Housing Frontiers Group. When it comes to scraping up $16 million for a capital reserve bailout, he identifies three potential sources: the buyer - just start charging more for the homes, the seller - who theoretically should have been investing all along, and the community.


“Okay so the community, who is really the community? The vast majority of the housing revenues come from a real estate transfer tax and those are paid by people who buy in the free market. And so those are the people who would be paying for any type of community investment,” said Frisch.


So, if you own a deed restricted home in pitkin county, hope to ever buy one, or hope to ever sell or buy a home on the free market, this proposal affects you. In a larger sense, Frisch argues, the availability of affordable housing has allowed Aspen to keep its diverse character in ways other mountain towns have failed to do. So if we don’t invest in the upkeep of affordable housing, we lose the portion of the population who needs affordable housing.


Crook presented the capital reserve proposal to the Pitkin County Commissioners last week. While city council members were receptive to the escrow funds, the commissioners expressed hesitation for such an administrative undertaking.  


“I appreciate the city grabbing the bull by the horns and taking one path,” said Chair Rachel Richards. “I’d like to see if we can find a simpler way.”


The public feedback meeting begins at 5pm on Monday, May 2 in Council Chambers.

You can view the full memo outlining changes to the HOA capital reserves here.

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