Veteran keeps Aspen roof over his head
ASPEN, Colorado An Iraq war veteran has won the battle to stay in his employee housing though he makes more money than what the rules allow.On the five-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority Board on Wednesday voted to make an exception for Casey Owens, a 26-year-old former Marine and double amputee.He was informed by the housing authority in February 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 in a deed-restricted category 1 unit.But the housing board decided to let him stay in the unit indefinitely, which was the recommendation of the housing office staff.This is a bit awkward for us because Casey doesnt meet our requirements on a number of different levels, said Housing Director Tom McCabe. But a disabled veteran is not a person we can turn out into the cold.The board agreed. Member Ron Erickson said the situation Owens found himself in was not his fault, but, rather, the owner of the property and the property management company, Joshua & Company, who failed to have Owens qualified prior to occupancy.I think the situation here is really the responsibility of the owner to get straightened out and I dont think the tenant has done anything wrong here, Erickson said.Through a routine check by the housing office, which requires all employees living in deed-restricted units to submit tax returns and qualify under the program’s guidelines, it was determined that Owens doesn’t meet the qualifications for the apartment in which he resides.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 a larger home nearby.While the unit is required to be occupied by an employee of Pitkin County who works here at least nine months out of the year, that tenant must qualify before moving in, and it’s the responsibility of the property owner to make sure that happens.The property owner, Marne Obernauer, has apologized and takes responsibility for the situation. He also has agreed to work with the housing office and the citys building department to make the unit ADA compliant, which will remain in the housing inventory with that designation indefinitely.With the assistance of a veteran’s group, Owens said he made over $30,000 in improvements to the one-bedroom unit to make it more livable for a disabled person. The modifications were done without approvals, building permits or inspections.However, McCabe, Joshua Saslove, the property manager, and the citys chief building officer, Stephen Kanipe, inspected the unit earlier this week and determined that most of it is in compliance, though electrical and plumbing work will need to be inspected.Saslove told the housing board on Wednesday that Obernauer is willing to do whatever is necessary to make the apartment ADA compliant and make any other improvements that will benefit Owens and the housing authority.I love that we are getting an ADA unit because there are so few of them, said board member Marcia Goshorn.The board in the future will consider changing the deed restriction to a category 2, which allows for a tenant to make more money.Owens apartment is one of seven units in whats known as the Mocklin Employee Dwelling Units. The apartments are owned each by an owner of a corresponding free market unit.Julie Kieffer, housing enforcement officer, told the Times last month that she had no record of any employee’s qualifications to live in Owens unit since 2001, but she is aware there have been other tenants before Owens, who moved in last summer.Through a memo to the housing board, Kieffer recommended allowing Owens to stay.The Veterans Affairs Department estimates that on any given night during 2007, 154,000 veterans were homeless, Kieffer wrote. [The authority] has no desire to worsen that situation, or to disrespect the contribution of this man to our nations protection.Owens represents Challenge Aspen as unpaid member of its ski racing team. He relies on disability and his military pension for income, although much of that goes to his medical bills.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 valley 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.
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