Aspen’s affordable housing board left in dark about changes afoot
Members of a citizen volunteer board that governs the local housing authority had some choice words for Aspen City Council members on Wednesday, angered that they weren’t informed on pending changes to the program.
Perhaps the biggest governance shift would be changing the make-up of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board so that there are two elected officials from the county and two elected officials from the city, along with three citizens.
Councilman Adam Frisch introduced the idea at a City Council retreat Tuesday. The following day, APCHA board members read about it in The Aspen Times’ coverage of the retreat.
“It didn’t strike a good chord with me,” said APCHA board member Dallas Blaney at Wednesday’s meeting. “I think it’s a reflection on us, which I don’t appreciate.”
Assistant City Manager Barry Crook, who attended the APCHA meeting, said a group of city and county officials don’t believe the current governance structure works, so they felt it was in their purview to move on a potential solution.
“I don’t think at all this is a reflection on you or what you’ve done,” Crook said in response to Blaney.
Crook also said members of the city and county government disagree on some big policy issues within APCHA, which has created inefficiencies.
And, over the course of time, some council members believe Pitkin County officials have given less time and attention to the housing program, Crook added.
APCHA board chairman Ron Erickson said he and the rest of the board would have appreciated a head’s up, especially considering the time and effort the volunteers give every month.
“No one bothered to ask us if we had any recommendations or options to present,” he said. “I think most of us feel resentment about that.”
Erickson said he wanted a formal invite from the city to be part of an Aug. 7 joint meeting between the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and Aspen City Council when they will discuss APCHA governance issues.
“If you discuss this further we ask you to invite us,” he said. “They would be served by listening to our input.”
Frisch said he would have preferred that the board learn about the changes afoot earlier and regrets that didn’t happen.
“It wasn’t my idea how we rolled this out,” he said, adding he appreciates their work and wants to hear their ideas about the next phase of APCHA.
“They need the respect and at some point, we need to pick their brain about APCHA 2.0,” Frisch said.
He said he’s hoping board members and elected leaders will meet prior to the Aug. 7 joint meeting.
On Wednesday evening, Blaney asked Crook if city officials are so concerned about the housing program, why haven’t they attended any APCHA meetings.
Crook said he couldn’t answer on behalf of the elected officials.
When asked Thursday, Frisch said he hasn’t been to an APCHA board meeting in two years.
But, he said he’s put in countless hours over the past nine years working behind the scenes with various taskforces and other groups to address issues within the affordable-housing program.
One of those was the Housing Frontiers Group, which tackled the difficult problem of deficient capital reserves across HOAs in the APCHA inventory.
That is one of the big policy issues that city and county officials disagreed on, which is why it’s still ever present.
Frisch has been meeting with other elected leaders and top administrative officials in both governments the past few months. They’ve been discussing how to change the system so stalemates such as the capital reserve issue can get resolved quicker.
“I’m supportive of private discussions,” Frisch said, adding that once the information is ready for public consumption, those affected need to be briefed beforehand.
This is not the first time elected officials from both governments have served on the APCHA board. Until 2002, one council member and one county commissioner were members, along with four citizens who kept the majority.
The intergovernmental agreement was amended to change the board to be all citizens. Cindy Christensen, who has worked for APCHA since 1992, said part of the conversation at the time was that some people thought elected officials were coming to the table with their own agendas, thereby politicizing the housing program.
When Christensen began working at APCHA, she was an employee of Pitkin County. That changed in 1993, when Christensen became a city employee.
The city has gradually taken over the administration and control of the program in the ensuing years while APCHA has remained a separate entity.
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