Longtime housing board volunteer steps away from APCHA board
With new term limits kicking in, Rick Head reflects on 10 years on the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board
After 10 years and thousands of hours of volunteering his time, Rick Head stepped down Wednesday from the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.
He read from a prepared statement at the beginning of his last meeting, fighting back tears at times and thanking his fellow board members for their service.
“I have every confidence you will continue to tirelessly work toward the daunting task for me and perhaps one day receive some good press acknowledging that it’s difficult work,” he said.
He thanked staff members Andrew Miller, business analyst; Bethany Spitz, compliance manager; and Tom Smith, attorney, for their work in moving the agency forward, along with others.
Head, who most recently served a two-year term, has been termed out based on a relatively new intergovernmental agreement between the city and county in which elected officials joined what had been an all-citizen board in 2019.
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Head said it was disappointing to learn of the change at the time by reading it in the newspaper that city officials were heading that direction.
The board was revamped so that it is comprised of five members, two of whom are elected officials representing the city and county, and three citizens at-large, plus an alternate, along with two alternates for the electeds.
“I had my doubts and I was unsure of its workability and given the fact that it’s been tried before and failed,” he said in a statement, acknowledging that elected officials have served on the APCHA board previously. “After the change was made, I continued to be unsure of that decision until recently when I began to see real progress because it seemed that for so many months we were spinning our wheels and not getting anything done. But I believe now that we’ve righted the ship, and I have complete confidence the board will continue to progress.”
County and city officials voted in 2019 to change the makeup of the board to expedite decisions on major issues, such as how to fund deficits among homeowners associations with aging buildings and establish seller standards so units aren’t sold in disrepair to the next buyer.
The latter issue has been one that the board has been able to gain some traction on, Head reflected on Wednesday before his final meeting.
While Head acknowledged that more progress is being made with elected officials on the board, it’s also gotten more monotonous.
He’s served on the county’s board of adjustment for 20 years and 30 years on the Aspen Youth Center board, but APCHA was becoming a bigger time commitment.
“This one was beginning to grate on me, listening to the same person over and over saying the same thing,” he said. “The electeds dominate the conversation almost all of the time.”
He estimated that elected officials take up about 70% of the discussion and the remaining time goes to the citizens on the board, which is fine because they are thoughtful comments but the meetings are an hour or more longer than they used to be.
One of the biggest improvements made to the process was absolving the citizen board from deciding compliance cases, which almost always ended in kicking people out of their homes for breaking the rules.
“I cried I don’t know how many times … those were painful days,” Head said. “I’m so thankful under the new guidelines we have a hearing officer who has taken on an enormous task off of our hands so we can focus 100% on policy.”
The board began shifting toward a hearing officer and a schedule of fines for violations in 2018 and finally last year, a hearing officer was hired to hear compliance cases and rule according to the fine schedule.
Head said he’s glad that the board was able to change the regulations for retirees in APCHA’s deed-restricted units, which was done during Wednesday’s meeting.
The lack of capital reserves for old properties continues to be an issue for the agency, as is the dispute between homeowners in the Centennial condos and local government about the deterioration of their units built in the 1980s, Head noted.
There are other big decisions to be made by the board in the future, like whether to expand the zone in which people who live in APCHA’s 3,000 for-sale and rental units are banned from owning other property, and if the required employment boundary of Pitkin County is valid in a virtual world.
“There are so many daunting things in front of this board, I shudder to think,” Head said.
He said he thinks that APCHA’s governance structure with the new executive director answering to the city administration as well as the board causes conflicts of interest.
“Down the road, APCHA will need to be an independent entity with its own funding,” Head said.
That is the position of the past two executive directors, who resigned under tense circumstances with government officials.
Head said he is excited for the new executive director, Matthew Gillen, who will start later this fall.
In the meantime, Head said he has been impressed with interim executive director and assistant city manager Diane Foster who took the reins shortly after the resignation of Mike Kosdrosky a year ago.
“Here’s a gal who hit the pavement running and got her hands around the challenges facing the board,” he said. “Her leadership skills were really demonstrated.”
He also acknowledged that APCHA deputy director Cindy Christensen has been the glue that has held the agency together for the past three decades.
“I thank her for her tireless work ethic and being our mother hen for almost 30 years,” Head said.
He has worked with a dozen different board members over the years.
“It was a pleasure to work with them all,” he said.
Many of them have had to endure the abuse from one of the agency’s biggest foes, Lee Mulcahy, who has been in litigation with APCHA and the city for years over his eligibility to live in a single-family house in the Burlingame Ranch subdivision.
“We were lambasted by him,” Head said, calling it a nightmare dealing with him for the past five years. “He attacked us at every meeting.”
There’s been other controversial and politicized issues over the years that the board was caught in the middle of, but its members pressed on regardless, Head reflected.
APCHA board members thanked Head for his time volunteering on the board for as long as he did.
“Rick, I am going to miss you and all of your history and all of your sage guidance for the rest of us at the table,” said board member and Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury. “I think APCHA needs more cheerleaders in the community so I hope you are cheerleader No. 1.”
APCHA alternate board member and Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards thanked Head for his common sense, straightforward approach to the issues and taking into consideration the seller, buyer and owner.
“You have been stalwart and strong and I appreciate that greatly,” she said.
Head will be replaced with Alycin Bektesh, a former journalist at Aspen Public Radio and Aspen Daily News.
“I think she will be a great addition to the board,” Head said. “It’s time for fresh blood.”
Amendments to the Aspen-Pitkin Housing Authority employee housing regulations approved by the board Wednesday:
Retired former employees who worked within Pitkin County full-time: The change is requiring at least a 10-year year work history versus the current four-year work history of full-time work in Pitkin County immediately prior to retirement age as defined in the regulations to be allowed to continue to rent and/or own such housing or move into rental or ownership housing. Disability remains the same at four years. An additional provision was added that an individual is allowed to retire at 62 years old if they can document a 30-year work history with 15 of those years immediately preceding retirement age residing in APCHA housing.
Bid submission: The change is to allow any household the ability to bid up only one category from what that household is currently. The household still is not allowed to bid under their specific category. For example, a Category 3 household can bid on any Category 3 or 4 unit, but not a Category 1, 2 or 5.
Death of a qualified employee: This section clarifies and defines what happens when the qualified employee dies and leaves an unqualified member of the household in a rental and/or ownership unit, which is a minimum period of time if a tenant’s lease expires prior to six months. A dependent should be able to add their schooling, along with their current full-time work history to obtain the four-year requirement.
Leave request: This change directs an owner to the hearing officer if APCHA or the HOA denied their leave request and relates to the removal of the special review process.
Special review: This process is being removed from the regulations. The issues relate to a waiver of a specific regulation whereby there could be inconsistencies, and some waivers may seem unfair to the public. APCHA staff will assess any requests to see if recommendations should be addressed in the regulations in the future and taken to the board to review and approve or deny. APCHA staff also will keep track of any type of request that comes forward to see if it is a “one off” or something that should be readdressed in the regulations.
Qualified retiree in APCHA housing: This definition is being modified to reflect the 10-year requirement of consecutive work immediately prior to retirement. An individual is allowed to retire at age 62 if they can document a 30-year work history with 15 of those years immediately preceding retirement age residing in APCHA housing.
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