Smith Ranch work requirements deemed discriminatory by state

The Smith Ranch neighborhood in Silverthorne is pictured Sunday, Nov. 7. The Colorado Civil Rights Division has determined that work requirements within the neighborhood’s deed restrictions are discriminatory against individuals with disabilities.
Lindsey Toomer/Summit Daily News

The Colorado Civil Rights Division has decided that a provision in the Smith Ranch housing lottery requiring homebuyers to work 30 hours per week in the county is discriminatory against those with disabilities.

Because homes in the Smith Ranch development in Silverthorne are deed restricted to homebuyers who work at least 30 hours per week in the county on average, people with disabilities who are unable to work the required amount cannot purchase in the neighborhood. A local woman with a disability who wanted to enter the lottery system, which the town uses to select homebuyers, was denied because she was unable to meet this requirement. She submitted a complaint to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Because people with disabilities are a protected class under both Colorado and federal fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate based on disability status. The complainant reported that she was denied reasonable accommodation based on her protected class. The town argued that allowing the woman to enter the Smith Ranch lottery would change the primary purpose and goals of the workforce housing program: to provide units for employees in the county.

The process for civil rights complaints is unique in that there is no court involved. Rather the division makes a decision based on evidence presented from both sides: A complaint is filed with the division and provides detailed information, the division then requests information from those accused of wrongdoing, and the complainant is given a final chance to provide a rebuttal before the division makes its determination.

Now that a decision has been made, the complainant will meet with the town for a conciliation meeting to determine what comes next. This meeting is scheduled to take place in the coming week.

Marie Falzone has served as an advocate for the woman through her role as an independent living coordinator with the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence. She said every workforce housing covenant in Summit County says that if someone becomes disabled and is unable to meet the work requirements while living in workforce housing, they wouldn’t be approved to stay longer than a year unless authorized by the governing agency.

Falzone said this isn’t something that has happened yet in the county, but she doesn’t have faith that Silverthorne would let someone stay given this complainant’s experience.

“If the program is created in a way that is denying equitable access, it needs to be fundamentally challenged,” Falzone said.

Falzone also said she thinks the laws surrounding these circumstances need to be more clear and less up to individual interpretation.

“The biggest thing is we don’t think they’re being malicious at all,” Falzone said. “We don’t think they’re making these decisions out of an angry or a bad place. We just think they’re not very well informed.”

Falzone noted that the complainant wasn’t asking for anything for free — simply a chance to enter the lottery. While it is still unclear what the final outcome will be, Falzone said she hopes to see a process for accommodating folks with disabilities established.

“Right now, the way their process is set up is if you don’t meet the work requirement — even if you can afford the mortgage, you can afford the down payment, things like that — they’re just like, ‘No, you don’t meet this one requirement,'” Falzone said. “There’s no other (way to) show how else you help this community.”

Rob Murphy, executive director of the Summit Combined Housing Authority, said it’s against the authority’s policy to comment on ongoing litigation, but he said they are working with the town and the Department of Regulatory Agencies through the process. Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland said the town would not comment until after the reconciliation meeting is held this week to respect the process.

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