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Affordable Housing Buyers Beware


By

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  We learned that lesson the hard way, when we tried to sell our permanently affordable home.  Since June of 2011, for more than a year now, we’ve been embroiled in legal action against the City of Boulder’s Affordable Housing Program.  Despite numerous attempts by the City Attorney to get our case thrown out of court, a court date for a jury trial has now been set for October 15, 2012.

4570 Squires Circle, 2003. Click to view more “before” photos

First, a little background:  we purchased a permanently affordable home at 4570 Squires Circle in December of 2003.  It was a foreclosure, then owned by the City of Boulder.  It was in rough shape – see the “before” video here.  There were no kitchen appliances, a window was broken, there were no railings around a high back patio, radon levels in the basement were above EPA standards, the roof was sagging, the driveway looked like it had been in an earthquake… the list goes on.  We borrowed about $25,000 from the city for “rehab” work to make it habitable, and repaid the loan several years before it was due.  We also made several major improvements to the home over the seven years we lived there, including installing a new, high-efficiency furnace, remodeling the kitchen, installing new windows and much more.  See the “after” video here.  We were proud homeowners, and it shows.

4570 Squires Circle, 2012. Click to view more “after” photos.

The trouble started when we tried to sell the home.  We believe affordable housing officials blocked the sale of our home to the only qualified buyer who put an offer on it, by requiring us to either pay more than $20,000 in so-called “excessive damage” charges, or reduce the cost of our home by that same amount.  Either way, we were going to be out a whole lot of money if we wanted that sale to go through.

These “damages” were “identified” by the city after it had determined the sales price of our home. This violates the contract signed by all parties when we bought the home.  The covenant  specifically states that before setting the sales price the city has the right to inspect the home and lower the price by the cost of repairs to any damages they determine.  (Affordable housing officials, who paid us two separate visits when we notified them of our intent to sell, did not inspect or identify any “excessive damage” before determining the sales price).  According to Homeownership Manager Bonnie Logan’s affidavit in our case, this was common – the city’s practice of not inspecting homes for damage, before setting the price, helped reduce the affordable home program’s expenditures.  In other words, skipping the required inspection saves them money.  It sure does, especially when they insist low-income homeowners shoulder the financial burden of improving the city’s stock of affordable homes, before a sale can take place.  We believe we maintained the home in good, safe and habitable condition, as required by the covenant.  The City of Boulder disagrees.

So, we find ourselves heading to court in mid-October.  And we think anyone considering purchasing a home through the City of Boulder’s Affordable Housing Program should take notice.  This trial is our chance to say “Buyer Beware.”

Our warning not only encompasses our current legal battle, but goes back to misrepresentations by affordable housing officials, even before we purchased the home.  City officials advertised a 4 bedroom home for $205,000.  We jumped at the chance to own it, along with many others.  There was so much interest in the house in the first 30 days, city officials held a lottery to determine who would have a chance to buy it.  We won!  It wasn’t until we were ready to sell our home that we learned the city would only allow us to market it as a 2 bedroom.  It seems city housing officials had not bothered to confirm that all 4 bedrooms they advertised actually met city building codes.  Two bedrooms do not.  Thus, we were now the proud owners of the most expensive “two bedroom” home in the entire affordable housing program.  As you can imagine, interest in buying our home was low.  We had one offer.

Since our legal action began, at least one city official in charge of the affordable housing program is no longer working there.  Yet city officials won’t back down.  Neither will we.  We want the public to understand how the City of Boulder’s Affordable Housing Program operates.

Now, we look forward to a jury of our peers rendering a verdict in this case.  We anticipate that the jury’s verdict will confirm what we believe this community values – honesty and integrity.  We are not asking for money.  We are asking that the City of Boulder buy back the home it misrepresented to us.  The same home it blocked us from selling, by insisting we either fix the “damage” or lower the cost – both options that force us to pay over $20,000.

Since we refused to do that, we’ve been locked in a legal battle for more than a year.  During that time, the mission of the affordable home program sits idle.  Our hope was that another family in need of some financial assistance could live in the home.  That hasn’t happened.  We want out of the City of Boulder’s Affordable Housing program.  And, we want to warn others… when you enter into the program, remember:  Buyer Beware.

We don’t believe we are the only affordable homeowners forced the shoulder the financial burden of improving the City of Boulder’s affordable housing stock.  In our case, city officials have demanded we repair costly items that existed when we bought the home, like drainage issues related to the grade of the land around the home.  We refused.  We will not be bullied.  We will abide by our covenant, which requires us to maintain the home in good, safe and habitable condition.  What we won’t do is pay to erase every problem the house ever had.  We have already improved the home at a personal cost of nearly $40,000.  It is up to the next buyer to improve it further.  We have lived up to our end of the bargain.

We hope other affordable homeowners will also stand up and fight.  If you feel you’ve been mistreated by city affordable housing officials, or know a friend who has been in a situation similar to ours, please let us know.

In the end, we will have spent far more on legal fees than we can afford.  But we feel it will be worth it, to bring to light the questionable actions of our city officials.  It’s not about money.  It’s about warning low-income families trying to live in Boulder:  a so-called affordable home can turn out to be a very expensive lesson.

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