Board members for Aspen’s affordable housing program show frustration in lack of progress |

Board members for Aspen’s affordable housing program show frustration in lack of progress

Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority sign in downtown Aspen.
Aspen Times File

Some members of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board expressed frustration on Wednesday that little has been done on behalf of the public since the board’s makeup changed to include elected officials.

“We are six months into this new board and APCHA 2.0, and we’ve really accomplished nothing,” said board member Carson Schmitz, who served previously on the all-volunteer citizen board before electeds from the county and city joined this past August. “We’ve got serious issues that we’ve got to deal with. … There’s no meaningful progress and I don’t understand why we can’t get anything done.”

Schmitz said that in response to the board’s plan to have a second retreat to follow up from the first one held in September and devise a strategic plan, which is required by a newly-formed intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county.

The idea, said APCHA board member and City Councilman Skippy Mesirow, is to put on hold a public outreach campaign to let people know of sweeping, potentially impactful changes to the affordable housing program, until that strategic plan is formalized.

Coupled with that delay is the addition of a hearing officer that the APCHA board has been discussing for almost two years but has yet to come to fruition.

The new, contracted position was first introduced in the spring of 2018, along with a fine schedule aimed at getting inhabitants of APCHA’s 3,000-plus units to comply with the rules.

Both were passed by the APCHA board in 2018 as recommendations to City Council and the county commissioners.

That was when the board was made up entirely of volunteer citizens and their recommendations had to be approved by elected officials.

The change in the board’s makeup was made to expedite decisions and not have to go to other governing bodies for final review.

The schedule of fines, which range from $150 to $6,000, as well as the hearing officer, are being considered in order to force compliance and get the board away from being in the unenviable position of deciding residents’ fates when it comes to enforcing the rules.

The proposed changes were planned to be instituted in 2019, but politics slowed them down as city and county elected officials changed the makeup of the board.

Both council and commissioners “called up” the policy changes for review, which took most of 2019 before they were approved.

Now even with the blessing to move forward, APCHA is still stalled on hiring a hearing officer because a recent request for proposals only attracted one law firm to bid, and it wasn’t a good match, according to the agency’s staff.

A new request will be floated in the hopes of receiving more bids. APCHA also will reach out to the local bar associations to notify them of the listing.

“We are just spinning our wheels,” said David Laughren, a new citizen board member who was appointed by commissioners and City Council last summer.

He suggested that public outreach for potential guideline changes occur outside of the strategic plan and retreat.

APCHA board member and county commissioner George Newman said in hindsight the board was too ambitious in getting a public outreach campaign rolled out in the first quarter of 2020.

But he said it could be done by the second quarter, building off of the last retreat and working simultaneously on the current strategic visioning.

Mesirow said he doesn’t want the six months of static to be a benchmark but rather ignition to the light the board’s fire to take action.