Housing board debates staffing | AspenTimes.com

Housing board debates staffing

A marriage between the public and private sectors may be the best way to get 600 units of affordable housing built or approved in the next two years, housing officials said Wednesday.

In a preliminary discussion yesterday, the housing board debated the number of new housing staffers it needs to execute a joint city/county directive to have six separate projects, totaling 600 units, built or approved by the end of 2001.

If the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority takes on the mandate in house, Housing Director Mary Roberts said four additional project managers will be needed to accomplish the task. In addition to the newly created positions, Roberts reminded the board that the currently vacant assistant director’s position would also have to be filled.

But another course advocated by several board members is to “farm out” or contract one or more private developers to take on the 600 new units. In this scenario, Roberts would oversee the private developer but the subcontractors, from architects to carpenters, would be selected and supervised by the chosen private contractor.

“I think it makes a lot of sense to find someone that’s very experienced … someone with a team already in place, who has loyal subcontractors,” said board member Cari Britton.

“This way there isn’t the time lag getting up to speed,” agreed board member Tim Semrau.

The board agreed to explore the possibility, along with the financial implications, of contracting out the work.

But the concept of hiring private contractors is not a new one for the Housing Authority and past experiences have not always been pleasant.

Projects like Common Ground, Twin Ridge and Williams Woods were cited as examples in which the housing office relinquished its development role to the detriment of the projects. Board member Bob Helmus noted, “There’s a history here of needing to have control.”

Board member Mick Ireland echoed Helmus’ concern, recalling the frustration residents felt when they could seek no recourse for problems such as defective roofs because the private contractor had gone out of business.

“We have tried this in the past and they all come back to bite us,” Ireland said.

In response, Semrau, a builder himself, suggested that a contract with a private developer could be performance based.

Chairwoman Jackie Kasabach suggested the housing office gauge the interest in the private sector as a first step.

“I think it’s really important to put the idea out there and see what comes back,” she said. “Let’s see if anyone has the time, interest or energy.”

Regardless of the future role of the private sector, the board agreed yesterday to seek candidates for at least two housing office positions – assistant executive director and the new post of senior project manager.

As envisioned, the senior project manager would have at least 10 years of construction experience and would supervise the other project managers, whether they would be public or private.

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