Iraq amputee could lose Aspen housing | VailDaily.com
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Iraq amputee could lose Aspen housing

Carolyn Sackariason
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” An Iraq war veteran’s employee housing is in jeopardy because his government disability income is more than what the rules allow.

Casey Owens, a 26-year-old former Marine and a double amputee, was informed by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority earlier this month that he would have to move out of his apartment on Lone Pine Road because his income exceeds $32,000, which is the maximum a person can earn annually and still qualify to live a deed-restricted unit.

Julie Kieffer, the housing authority’s enforcement officer, sent Owens and the property owner, Marne Obernauer, a letter stating Owens would have to move out within a year or make less money.

The housing authority’ board is scheduled to discuss Owens’ situation March 19 and will determine whether an exception should be made.

“If we apply the rules, he shouldn’t be there,” said Tom McCabe, housing authority”s executive director. “But he’s a disabled vet … if we throw him out in the snow, it will do the program harm [in terms of public perception].”

At issue, however, is that Owens didn’t initially qualify to live in the apartment, which is classified as an employee dwelling unit ” an affordable housing requirement necessary for the approval of the larger home on the property.

Apparently, Obernauer didn’t notify the housing authority that Owens was moving in and needed to qualify.

“I thought it had been discussed with people behind the scenes,” said Owens, who moved into the unit last summer. “I had no idea that there were [income] categories … It was just surprising. I would have held off and found a category that applied to me.”

Kieffer said housing authority’ has no record of any employee’s qualifications to live in the unit since 2001, but she is aware there have been other tenants before Owens, who moved in last summer.

A Pitkin County employee who works in the area at least ninth months out of the year is supposed to live in the unit.

Although the board has yet to review the case, making an exception for Owens is possible.

“We’re probably going to bend the rules,” Kieffer said.

Owens is worried about his future and said he doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers of any decision makers who control his fate. He just hopes he can stay in the apartment, he said.

With the assistance of a veteran’s group, Owens said he spent $30,000 making the apartment move liveable for disabled people.

Owens works pro bono for Challenge Aspen’s ski racing program. He relies on disability and his military pension for income. He moved to Aspen after living in and out of hospitals, including Walter Reed National Army Medical Center, as well as staying with his parents in Houston.

Owens was injured in 2004 during his second tour of duty in Baghdad when his Humvee ran over an anti-tank mine. He has had several surgeries since he returned from Iraq.

After being recruited to work in disabled sports, Owens moved to the mountains and lived at a lodge in Snowmass for five weeks before moving into the Aspen apartment.

He signed a two-year lease and pays $530 a month.

“It sucks because for the last several years I have been moving around in hospitals and whatever,” Owens said. “I just want a place to call my home.

“This is just one more thing to worry about.”


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