New group to tackle affordable housing
August 5, 2008
ASPEN ” A new citizens’ committee will take a close look at the needs, problems and challenges of affordable housing in Aspen and Pitkin County.
Officials at a joint meeting of the Aspen City Council and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners gave the go-ahead for housing officials to form a committee tentatively titled “Housing Frontiers.”
Housing director Tom McCabe said the group would consider “everything under the sun,” from a smoking ban in employee housing to public/private partnerships to create new units.
The committee will also study options for retiring baby boomers who occupy highly sought-after employee units. In a list of bullet points, McCabe suggested the group could look at everything from moving retirees to affordable communities downvalley to creating buy-back programs and trade-downs so that “empty nesters” could live in smaller units in Aspen.
The committee will revisit issues from last year’s housing summit, as well as address questions raised by members of a citizens’ budget task force.
Committee members will be handpicked by the housing board, McCabe said.
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McCabe asked the joint meeting of the two elected boards for suggestions.
Councilman Steve Skadron called for more enforcement of existing regulations, such as resident occupied rules or asset caps.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield agreed, saying that while the housing authority should not become police, it is important to keep affordable housing for those who qualify
and need it.
Fellow Commissioner Dorothea Farris said the citizen group might also look at solar construction in new affordable housing, as well as giving incentives for people to create caretaker units for employees.
As a separate issue, McCabe asked elected officials to streamline the process for changing housing guidelines.
Currently, housing officials have to wait months or even years to pass minor changes to housing regulations by bouncing proposals back and forth between both boards, which are tied in an intergovernmental agreement over housing.
McCabe said hoped to speed it up by making the housing board the “primary mover” on issues.
Under McCabe’s proposal, elected officials would have to “call up” any objectionable rule change, but any agreed-upon changes would go through without discussion.
McCabe stressed that the process would be limited to minor tweaks in procedure.
The elected officials were not enthusiastic.
“As written, I could not agree to this. I think this is way off-base,” Hatfield said.
Councilman Jack Johnson said housing regulations affect a “great deal” of residents and that it is important for elected officials, instead of the housing board, to monitor rules that govern them.
“That disturbs me,” Farris said of the streamlining. “I don’t think faster is necessarily better.”