City, county revamp Housing Authority | AspenTimes.com

City, county revamp Housing Authority

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Two longtime partners in affordable housing – Aspen and Pitkin County – agreed Tuesday to restructure their joint Housing Authority in a move one staunch housing advocate called the “evisceration” of the housing board.

The City Council and county commissioners reached several compromises, most notably on which government will have direct oversight over the housing director. The county agreed to let the director answer to the city manager, but commissioners insisted the county manager have a say in the hiring of the housing director.

The city had proposed its manager have the sole authority to hire and fire the director. The city manager will have the ability to fire the housing director after consulting with the county manager.

The two governments also agreed to trim the nine-member housing board to five citizen members – two appointed by the city, two by the county and one appointed jointly. A jointly selected alternate member will also be appointed.

The city had proposed appointing three members and letting the county pick two.

The current housing board includes seven regular members and two alternates. A commissioner and a council member sit on the board. The new board will not have any elected officials in its membership.

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Development of housing projects will not be among the narrowed scope of duties assigned to the streamlined housing board. A proposed organizational chart gives the board an advisory role on policy issues, but virtually all decision-making power would rest with either the Housing Authority staff or elected officials.

“I see what’s going on here as an intermediate step in the dissolution of the Housing Authority,” said Frank Peters, former chairman of the housing board. He accused elected officials of eviscerating the housing board and suggested many of the board’s past accomplishments would not have been possible without a powerful, independent group of housing advocates at the Housing Authority’s helm.

“We haven’t talked about how the end user profits from what’s going on now,” Peters said. “I basically would wish you to rethink how there’s going to be a strong, aggressive advocate for the end user.”

Former housing director Dave Tolen also was critical of the decision. “The Housing Authority took the initiative on a consistent, fair, nationally leading housing program, and that’s the baby we’re about to throw out,” he said.

In the past, the housing board has often taken the lead in fighting for worker housing, said Tolen, noting its condemnation of the Woody Creek Trailer Park to acquire it as deed-restricted housing.

That condemnation was possible because the board had the financial backing of the city and the county, pointed out Commissioner Mick Ireland.

“I don’t see this as an evisceration of the Housing Authority,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I think the housing board can continue to be the advocates you’re talking about.”

Outside consultants recently recommended dismantling the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and folding its functions into city government, since the city is poised to construct most of the publicly built worker housing that will come on line over the next decade.

The existing Housing Authority had been mired in confusion over who was in charge, with staffers and the director answering to two different governments. The consultants suggested the reorganization to establish clear lines of authority and eliminate the inefficiencies.

Former Housing Director Mary Roberts recently resigned, spawning more debates over which entity should have control over hiring her successor. Housing Board members wanted that authority and commissioners balked at giving the city the sole responsibility for selecting the director.

“Both sides have got to work with that person,” Ireland said.

With last night’s compromises, both governments appeared to amicably settle their differences over the future functions of the Housing Authority.

The county has “come a long way” to meet the city’s desire to revamp the operation of the agency, noted Ireland.

“We’re acquiescing to a lot of things that we may not, in our hearts, want to do,” he said.

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