Aspen wants a new look for housing | AspenTimes.com

Aspen wants a new look for housing

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen appears ready to abandon the joint city/county Housing Authority as it currently exists, but most members of the City Council agreed Tuesday that some sort of citizen housing board is necessary.

Councilman Tom McCabe, however, suggested the city seriously consider whether it needs a housing board at all if the Housing Authority is restructured as a department of city government.

“What we end up with is another level of bureaucracy and added costs and added time,” he said.

A recently released housing master plan, drafted by outside consultants, recommended doing away with the housing board and folding the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority into city government. Since it’s the city that will develop most of the publicly built affordable housing yet to come, housing should be a city department, the consultants concluded.

Council members, at a work session yesterday, voiced support for reorganizing the Housing Authority and directed city staffers to explore the need for a housing advisory board.

“I think we need a new organization,” said Councilman Tim Semrau. He currently chairs the joint housing board, which is made up of citizen appointees and an elected representative from both the city and the county.

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The consultants, in a memorandum to the master plan, recommended a reorganization of the Housing Authority that has the housing-office staff answering to a department director, who in turn reports to the city manager. The City Council would top the chain of command, except when Pitkin County has contracted with the housing department for its projects. Then the housing director would report to the county commissioners.

The existing Housing Authority structure, as a joint department answering to two governments, is “confusing and inefficient,” the consultants concluded. “Project costs are too high, community priorities are not clear, and the time required to make decisions is excessive,” the memorandum notes.

As an alternative to eliminating the housing board altogether, the consultants suggested a five-member advisory board, made up of three city appointees and two county members; no elected officials would serve on the panel. It would advise the City Council on housing development and other issues, such as the guidelines that govern the housing program.

Virtually all of the decision making would be in the hands of either the council or the housing-office staff under the structure recommended by the consultants.

McCabe suggested the city was “trying to be warm and fuzzy” by retaining a housing board when the housing-office staff could fulfill the duties assigned to the reorganized board.

But Mayor Helen Klanderud voiced reluctance to disbanding the board altogether.

“One of the things it would do is review and adopt the guidelines and interpret the guidelines,” she said. “If the housing board wasn’t there to do it, we’d be doing it.”

“In reality, we need some sort of housing board because we don’t have time to do all the minutiae,” Semrau agreed.

The housing board is the body that’s willing to engage in a three-hour debate on whether or not dogs should be allowed in a complex, pointed out County Commissioner Shellie Roy, who currently serves on the housing board.

It’s also the group that can give local governments a pure recommendation on housing, without taking into account all the other issues that elected officials must weigh, she argued.

“If you disband the housing board, I’m going to go across the street and recommend we [the county] reinstate it,” Roy said.

The City Council is scheduled to meet with county commissioners on March 19 to discuss the future organization of the Housing Authority. The housing board is slated to discuss the housing study when it meets today.

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