Denver keeps chipping away at the cases of homes slipping from its affordable housing ownership program

This is part of the long recovery process after the discovery of hundreds of cases of people living in homes they didn’t qualify for.

Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson (left) and Britta Fisher, chief housing officer at Denver’s Office of Economic Development, speak to the press inside the Wellington Webb Building, Sept. 5, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson (left) and Britta Fisher, chief housing officer at Denver’s Office of Economic Development, speak to the press inside the Wellington Webb Building, Sept. 5, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

City Council members heard Wednesday that the Office of Economic Development has resolved more of the cases involving homes slipping out of Denver’s affordable ownership program.

Britta Fisher,  OED’s chief housing officer, said during a meeting of the council’s Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee that 170 of 355 cases have been resolved. In 39 of the 170 cases, homes had to be resold to people who met income limits.

“We’ve been focused on bringing people voluntarily into compliance,” Fisher told council members.

“Affordable housing is a precious resource,” she said. “At the same time we wanted to work with people who feel like they were caught unaware.”

She said her department had started sending notices of violation in the 185 remaining cases.

About 1,400 homes are covered by the program under which they should be sold only to people earning below the area’s average median income and meet other requirements.

OED announced last year that 306 homes were possibly out of compliance because covenant restrictions may not have been adhered to when the original buyers sold them. It later raised the number to 355 after determining that because 49 properties sold at foreclosure went to buyers who were not the first mortgage holders, the homes should have remained in Denver’s Affordable Homeownership Program.

In most cases, the covenant restrictions meant to preserve affordability are removed in foreclosures in which the bank or other entity that held the first mortgage acquires the property.

OED has been able to resolve many of the cases after finding that owners did have incomes that qualified them for affordable housing  or having the owners complete missing documentation or correct problems with their paperwork. In some cases, owners who had broken the rules by renting out their homes moved back into them as primary residences.

Denver city officials have been working with real estate brokers and others to keep the problems from recurring by finding ways to ensure that the covenant restrictions meant to keep the homes affordable aren’t missed during home sales and that the city is consulted when re-sale prices are set.

Fisher addressed the committee after the city auditor briefed council members on a report issued in December calling for OED to adopt better procedures for putting prices on its affordable homes, verifying incomes of buyers and keeping records.  OED has adopted many of the auditor’s recommendations.

Fisher told council members she welcomed the audit, which began the week she started work as OED’s chief housing officer last May.

“This was a great chance to have other eyes on our portfolio and look at how we can improve,” she said.

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