Housing officials to wait and see on new arrangement | AspenTimes.com

Housing officials to wait and see on new arrangement

Sarah S. Chung

Letting the Housing Authority function as a city department could become a tangled mess or “quite possibly could work out very well,” so why not give it a chance, say housing officials.

“We all have the same goals,” said housing board chairwoman Jackie Kasabach on approving the move beneath the city’s umbrella last week. “I felt there maybe some ambiguities, but that they could get resolved as things got more specific.”

At last week’s housing board meeting, four board members voted in favor of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority being incorporated into the city. Tom McCabe and Bob Helmus voted against the move until some terms of the contract, or Intergovernmental Agreement, could be clarified.

Generally, the board agrees that having the city take over financial, administrative and personnel issues for the housing office is a good idea.

The 11-person housing staff would gain the resources of the city’s finance and human resource departments. And both the housing board and the housing director would have more time to devote to reaching housing goals if they weren’t bogged down with administrative issues, supporters of the move reasoned.

But when the concept of becoming part of the city was translated into specific contract language, Helmus and McCabe balked at “very vague terms” that they believed had the potential to wreak havoc.

“There’s still no structure in place. I want to know, what’s the chain of command? Who has the authority over what, who is responsible when?” Helmus said.

The Intergovernmental Agreement states: “The Executive Director of the Authority shall work under the supervision of the City Manager and take general policy direction from the Authority [meaning the housing board.]”

“I think you have to define those terms. What is `supervision?’ What is `general policy?’ What is `administration?’ ” Helmus asked.

Kasabach and Housing Director Mary Roberts, however, prefer the live-and-learn approach.

“There were two ways to go about this – debate examples and possible examples or move forward and see what works, what doesn’t,” Roberts said. “You can sit in a room and argue forever about what might or might not come up.”

Board member Tim Semrau agreed that the terms troubling Helmus and McCabe are unclear, but he argues that “it’s impossible to define everything up front.” Semrau said he’s confident that “with good faith on everybody’s part, it can be worked out.

“In my opinion, one of two things had to happen. Either the authority had to be more autonomous or the city had to have more control because the status quo wasn’t working,” Semrau added. “I was told it’s illegal and impossible to have the housing board be elected and become more independent, so I favor city management.”

In any case, the move is not final yet. The agreement must still be adopted by the City Council and county commissioners.

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