Housing program due for revamp? | AspenTimes.com

Housing program due for revamp?

John Colson

Local housing officials agreed Wednesday that there may be goodreason to take a close look at whether the Aspen/Pitkin CountyHousing Authority is able to do everything expected of it thesedays.But at least one member of the Housing Board hesitated to go alongwith a characterization of the Housing Authority as “overtaxed.””I don’t feel overtaxed,” said board member Bob Helmus, reactingto statements made on Tuesday by Aspen City Councilman Jake Vickery.Vickery has said he believes the local Housing Board and housingoffice have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task beforeit – to build anywhere between 500 and 1,000 new affordable housingunits over the course of the next five to 10 years.As evidence, Vickery and others have pointed to a number of mistakesmade by the housing office in recent months, ranging from inaccuratecost projections concerning planned housing projects, to gaffesinvolving the lottery through which existing apartments and condosare sold or rented to qualified local employees.Vickery has proposed making changes in the way the Housing Authoritydoes business. One proposal, he said, is to form some other “component”in the system for building and managing the collection of condos,apartments, townhomes and houses under the authority’s control.Although he had no specific ideas, Vickery has called for a broaddiscussion of the housing program by the City Council and otherlocal boards.Housing Board chairman Frank Peters on Wednesday declined to saymuch about Vickery’s suggestions, except to comment, “I don’tthink there’s been any critical analysis of what is wrong andwhat should be done.”But Peters said he is open to the idea of changing the “housingproduction program” if a way can be found to do the job better.Helmus said the board has already been talking informally aboutmaking changes.”We have talked about whether there’s a better way to manage what’scoming on line,” he said, noting that the construction of affordablehousing is expected to gain momentum in the near future.”It’s a massive undertaking, for sure,” he said of the plans tobuild hundreds of homes for local workers.But, he said, the Housing Board and housing office staff feelthey have “a pretty good handle” on the projects that either arealready being built or are in the planning stages. Those includethe nearly complete senior housing at the Aspen Country Inn, alongwith general projects at 7th Street and Main, and on the Stillwaterproperty east of town.Concerning the stepped-up pace of future projects and how theyshould be handled, Helmus said, “I’m certainly open to anything.”Asked if he believes the Housing Board is being asked to do toomuch, Helmus at first said he did not, but then hesitated.”Yes and no, in answer to your question,” he said after a moment.He noted that he spends considerable time on his volunteer workas a board member, which takes time from his work as a contractorand from his family.”It’s a lot of work,” he said. “And we’re going to make mistakes,there’s no question. Hopefully, they’ll be small mistakes.”The possibility of making changes in how the Housing Board doesits work has already been on the minds of City Council members,said Mayor John Bennett.”We’ve all been thinking about this a lot,” Bennett said, adding,”I think most of us feel a level of concern.”He stressed that the housing office has been “extremely well runfor the last five or six years” by Housing Director Dave Tolenand his staff.But the recent problems, he said, have left the council with thefeeling that “we’ve got to do better in the future.”I’m not sure that creating a whole new bureaucracy is going toimprove the situation,” Bennett added. He predicted that the CityCouncil, along with other government entities, will tackle thequestion in the near future.

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