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Denver’s safeguards failed to protect homeowners

City officials are telling buyers to 'read the fine print' - but one person affected by the housing trouble thinks something as big as this shouldn't be considered 'fine print.'

DENVER— After the city’s admission that it believes 300 affordable homes may belong to people who don’t qualify to own them, Denver’s affordable housing program is under serious scrutiny.

Many of the homeowners in question paid the full market price to buy their homes, should never have been allowed to buy them, and have been told that they can expect notices from the city ordering them to sell the home for prices below market value to qualified lower-income buyers.

While others share the blame for the problem, the city is the only one with the power to decide not to force the sale of these homes.

The city also had several safeguards in place that failed to protect homeowners from accidentally buying these homes.

One of the 300 problem homes belongs to Jillissa Lucas, who proves you can know a lot about home-buying and still fall into this trap.

“Ironically, I've been in the mortgage industry since 1997,” Lucas said.

If the city of Denver forces her to sell her Green Valley Ranch home to a lower-income buyer, she'd have to sell it for roughly $30,000 less than market price because of the city's price controls on affordable homes.

BACKGROUND | Hundreds of affordable homes may have been improperly sold

Lucas bought this place to have a roof over her head and a good investment for her future. If someone would've told her she couldn't sell it at the full market price, she says the same thing other owners in her situation told us.

“I never would have come to a showing for this home, let alone bought it,” Lucas said.

Among the city’s safeguards that failed to protect Lucas from making that mistake was a requirement in city law that any listing these homes for sale disclose that they are in the affordable housing program.

We found the ad from 2014, for Lucas’ home, archived on several real estate websites.

The listing said among other things that her home had “five ceiling fans,” but nothing at all about affordable housing.

MORE | People in Denver forced to sell affordable housing they didn't know they bought

Something else felt wrong to Lucas about how all this played out.

“I would assume, with it being an affordable home project of some sort, that I would have to qualify or fill out paperwork,” Lucas said.

She's right.

Not only was the last owner required to notify the city 45 days before selling the home, the city was supposed to approve the new buyer.

The city knew the homes were changing hands.

They sent the property tax bills to the new owners, but no one in charge ever checked to make sure those owners qualified to live there.

Last week, a city representative told us the homeowners should have paid more attention.

RELATED | Denver overbilled property tax on hundreds of affordable homes

“Ultimately it is a purchase and it is buyer beware,” said economic development spokesman Derek Woodbury. “It’s critically important to read the fine print.”

Lucas says she reviewed the documents she signed when she closed on the home and there was nothing in them at all about the program, but even if there were, she’d not satisfied with the city’s response.

“It was pretty insensitive to say ‘buyer beware’ and ‘read the small print’ because something as large as this, this shouldn't be lost in the small print,” Lucas said.

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