Housing Board ponders its role
The need for a Housing Authority may seem obvious, but Housing Board members have decided it’s time to get it down in writing.
Especially pertinent at a time when the updated Aspen Area Community Plan is starting to take its final form, Housing Board members on Wednesday pronounced it long past time the housing program clearly defined its role in the community.
“We have a mission statement but not a policy … nothing concrete, nothing written down,” said Dave Tolen, housing director. “A lot’s happened in the last year and parts of the community seem troubled about what we’re about. So maybe it’s time to state what we’re about.”
But early discussion on formulating a set of guiding policies or values has revealed something of an identity crisis when it comes to how the affordable housing program in Aspen and Pitkin County should fit into the larger community.
Board members easily agreed that their primary objective is to protect area employees from being squeezed out of the pricey housing market.
Beyond that, the degree to which the housing program should focus solely on housing versus attempting to accommodate other community values is a matter of debate.
“I’d say the 92 people in the last [housing] lottery, and the 92 in the one before that and before that have made it pretty clear: Build more housing,” said board member Jackie Kasabach. “If we start out trying to guess what other boards want, what elected officials want, what is politically correct, we’ll never get anything done.”
But as an entity that spends, and depends on public money, board member Bob Helmus wondered if a position more considerate of established values wouldn’t be more beneficial to the housing program in the long run.
“We use public funding, there’s no getting around that,” Helmus said. “If we want to make decisions that the community will accept, we have to consider the impacts.”
For the time being, however, the degree to which the Housing Board will push for housing without consideration of other community concerns, like growth, open space and transportation, remained undecided.
That question will undoubtedly be debated again before the board adopts its official set of values in the coming weeks.
But for Kasabach, it’s a question of letting entities like the county Open Space and Trails Board champion their own cause without diluting the charge of the Housing Board with ancillary issues.
“What are we talking about here if there’s no community at all? It’ll be like Disneyland,” Kasabach said. “We can have all the cute Victorians you want. We can have all the open space, but it’ll be a ghost town without a soul actually living here.”
Other issues left for further discussion include: defining the housing program’s targeted constituency, ensuring fairness in selection of housing recipients and regulation, balancing need with public cost, determining policy to benefit both present and future generations, and creating more housing options for area employees of disparate income levels and circumstances.
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