Smith Ranch homebuyer requirements challenged as discriminatory
Deed-restricted neighborhood in Silverthorne requires buyers to work at least 30 hours per week in Summit County
The Smith Ranch housing development in Silverthorne, which includes for-sale homes for people who work in Summit County, has been met with complaints of discrimination against people with disabilities.
Because homes in the development are deed-restricted to homebuyers who work at least 30 hours per week in the county, people with disabilities who are unable to work the required amount cannot purchase in the neighborhood.
The Summit Daily News received two complaints of discrimination related to the Smith Ranch neighborhood. Complaints included allegations that an applicant on long-term disability was denied entrance into the lottery system, which is used to select homebuyers, because the applicant did not meet the work requirement.
The complaints also raised concerns about a section of the Smith Ranch Restrictive Covenant that says a resident of the neighborhood would be required to move out after one year if they become disabled and can’t meet the work requirement, unless the town approves a longer period of occupancy. Other Summit County workforce housing covenants — including those at Blue 52, Sail Lofts and The Wellington Neighborhood — include similar statements.
Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland said the town has received various types of requests to grant exceptions to the 30-hour rule or other requirements but has never done so because there is a high demand for workforce housing. Hyland said 66 people entered the most recent Smith Ranch lottery for 22 units.
“The approach that we’ve taken is — to maintain the integrity and the fairness of the lottery process, and adhere to all the regulations in the covenant — we have to qualify individuals based on their situation at the time of the lottery,” Hyland said.
Hyland said that while the town sympathizes with various situations, such as people who are looking for work, it feels the best way to maintain fairness for the highly sought-after real estate is to stick strictly to the restrictive covenant.
“It’s tough because the goal of workforce housing is for (the) workforce, and so that’s why we have strictly adhered to that part of the covenant,” Hyland said. “It’s tough. You’d have a situation where if you said, ‘We’re going to waive that. You don’t need to be working 30 hours,’ you’ve got to be able to look at all those other qualified applicants who are probably working 40 or 60 hours a week.”
In response to the complaints, Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies spokesperson Jillian Sarmo wrote in an email that it is illegal to discriminate based on disability status in housing under the federal Fair Housing Act. She noted that people with disabilities are employed, although at a lower rate than people without disabilities. Sarmo said it is possible that the requirements for interested buyers of homes in the Smith Ranch neighborhood have a disparate impact on people with disabilities.
The complaint received by the Summit Daily regarding the issue pointed to a section of the Fair Housing Act that requires that a housing provider make reasonable accommodations in rules for a person with a disability to use housing on an equal basis with people who don’t have a disability.
A copy of the complaint against the Summit Combined Housing Authority filed with the Department of Regulatory Agencies states that the housing authority might have violated a state statute that makes it illegal to withhold or refuse to sell housing because of a disability.
Silverthorne attorney Karl Hanlon said that the issue is not black and white and that he doesn’t feel there is clear guidance on this particular type of housing in the Fair Housing Act. Therefore, whether the covenant requirements violate the act are up to interpretation, he said.
“As Silverthorne continues to work on these things, I think it will continue to be part of the conversation and certainly something that we — without question — want to be fair to everybody and fair to the voters that directed us to go out and create workforce housing, which is why the deed restriction is drafted the way that it is,” Hanlon said.
There are at least two more phases of homes to be released in the Smith Ranch neighborhood, and Hanlon said the town might discuss the nuances of people who don’t meet some covenant requirements prior to releasing the next phase.
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