Aspen City Council to take over housing program from Pitkin County?

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times

Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch won support from his colleagues Monday night to pursue the possibility having the city take over governing the affordable housing program and let Pitkin County out of a decades-long partnership.

Frisch, who sought elected office several years ago mainly to improve the affordable-housing program, said the current governance structure is outdated.

“God forbid, is it bad that every 40 years we have a discussion on how the most important program in our community is being governed?” he said at Monday’s meeting. “While the current structure did make good sense at its inception, … the community needs to make significant improvements to our housing program, but the current governance structure inhibits progress.”

Established in the 1970s with 50-50 responsibilities between the city and county, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority now manages nearly 3,000 units in the inventory — both for sale and rentals. Money is funneled into the program through sales and rental revenue, developer fees and real estate transfer taxes in both the city and county.

Pitkin County’s dollars are less than what the city generates, yet decisions on income categories and rules for the program are equally divided.

“Putting aside the sensitive and important issue of our housing program, any governance structure that is 95-5 in financial disparity between two groups but more importantly, skewered on imbalance of the focus of two groups, having a 50-50 decision-making power is head-scratching,” Frisch said. “This not about checks and balance issues; this is making sure on behalf of the community there is a proper balance of responsibility and control.”

Mayor Steve Skadron and council members Ann Mullins and Bert Myrin agreed to Frisch’s request for a work session to be scheduled to discuss governance issues. They all commented that APCHA is one of the most important programs in the community. Councilman Ward Hauenstein was not present.

“Yes, I support having a conversation,” Myrin said. “Without conversation nothing gets done.”

Frisch stressed the timeliness of having that conversation, given the mounting issues facing the housing program — the lack of capital reserves homeowners associations have within their aging complexes; longtime residents retiring in their units; or using open space to construct housing.

“Just because I hope we can make some decisions soon, this does not mean any possible changes cannot take a fair bit of time to implement in full, but now is the time to act,” he said. “I will not sit by and wait for six months to go by to only then hear a suggestion for committee, commission or working group to be formed.”