Pitkin County Commissioner candidates Q&A: What should be done to address affordable housing?
pitkin county race
The Aspen Times published a five-day series with the five candidates for Pitkin County commissioner. Here are the topics addressed:
Monday: What are your views on growth in Pitkin County and should it be slowed, increased or stay the same and should house sizes be capped?
Tuesday: What, if anything, should be done to increase affordable housing in Pitkin County? Do you think APCHA is being run and administered properly and what would you like to see done differently?
Wednesday: Do you support efforts to widen the runway to accommodate larger airplanes? What is the most important issue to consider in planning the new airport?
Thursday: How would you rate Pitkin County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? How would you contribute to on-going efforts to counter the effects of the pandemic if elected?
Friday: What is the gravest and most important issue facing Pitkin County today?
For more on the 2020 ballot, go to aspentimes.com/election.
Editor’s note: This is the launch of our 2020 election coverage for the upcoming Nov. 3 election. This is day two of a five-day Q&A with the five Pitkin County commissioner candidates. For more information on the 2020 ballot, go to aspentimes.com/election.
There are five candidates running for three Pitkin County commissioner seats.
Current Board Chairman Steve Child, a Capitol Creek rancher, is running for his third term for District 4. Former Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board member Chris Council, a Snowmass Village resident and local photographer, is running against Child.
In District 5, Francie Jacober, a retired teacher and Prince Creek Road resident, faces Jeffrey Evans of Basalt, a longtime proponent of finding a solution to the Entrance to Aspen. The seat is open because Commissioner George Newman is term-limited and will step down after three four-year terms.
Greg Poschman, a Brush Creek Village resident, is finishing his first term in District 3 and is running unopposed.
For day two, the topic is housing (with a 200-word limit):
What, if anything, should be done to increase affordable housing in Pitkin County? Do you think the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) is being run and administered properly and what would you like to see done differently?
As a former board member of APCHA, I have been a strong proponent that the organization should be restructured as an independent housing authority. The APCHA board should be publicly elected — similar to the school board — and the executive director should report directly to this board without conflicting interests from the city of Aspen.
Almost two years ago, our elected officials had the opportunity to address the challenges in the current intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the county and the city.
Unfortunately, they failed to tackle the fundamental issues and essentially reverted the IGA to a model proven ineffective decades prior — my opponent voted for these changes.
Since that vote, APCHA has failed to achieve any meaningful strategic goals and the executive director was compelled to resign by the Aspen city manager.
Other issues, such as capital reserve deficiencies, also need to be addressed head-on.
Meanwhile, there are creative public-private partnership opportunities we should pursue to increase affordable housing: Basalt Vista and the Real America project in the midvalley are recent success stories. Long term, we need to begin to look at a regional approach to housing that involves stakeholders throughout the entire Roaring Fork Valley.
New city of Aspen housing units are coming online this fall for the first time in years. Many more are in the planning stage.
On the other hand, the current state of affordable housing administration is in tremendous upheaval. A new IGA is in place to govern APCHA, and a new director will need to be found and hired. Any analysis of their performance at this time would be either obsolete or premature.
Economic impacts of the pandemic are in their early stages, with one looming question being what will happen with federal efforts to prop up everything from small business to local government.
If the upcoming winter season is a bust, for any reason, financial assistance needs could be critical. Local government will need to find ways to retain as many skilled staff as possible, but the community at large will need to decide what resources we can commit to reducing the damage to our entire workforce (also known as our neighbors).
Will we need more housing or less by this time next year?
If ever there was a situation which called for a “wait and see” attitude, this would seem to be it.
I definitely would like to see more affordable housing made available to Pitkin County employees. If we want a stable and robust workforce, we need affordable housing and quality child care (with certified and well-paid caregivers) so that our workers are not traveling daily from Glenwood, Silt, Rifle, even Paonia. People should be able to afford to live where they work. Not only do long commutes add to our pollution, they also add unpaid hours to an employee’s work day. Perhaps we can look into more funding for APCHA through fees assessed on over-sized buildings — fees which increase with the percent over a base house size — like 5,720 square feet. This could be matched by requiring significant affordable housing funds for large development projects as well. Ideally, I would like to see affordable-housing complexes with on-site, privately provided child care where the county initially helps establish the facility with start-up funds. As for the management of APCHA, I know the director just resigned under negative circumstances. I am not familiar with the underlying issues, but clearly the director and the board must have an open, honest and efficient relationship in order to be effective.
Currently, our entire county has over 3,000 affordable-housing units, with plans to increase by double digits in the next few years. Policies have been adopted to govern the affordable-housing program with greater attention to detail than we saw in the first four decades. We have some daunting issues resulting from rapid growth, and I think it should be understood that we will always have governance and compliance issues with housing that make it complicated, yet it’s a vibrant and vital component of a livable community. I think APCHA has some serious challenges in creating equity for all valley residents — whether they be housed or not, the subsidized and the subsidizers, the qualified and the unqualified, and for those who generally abide by the rules. Enforcement of a clear set of rules is necessary for trust. Having the most robust and responsive affordable housing program in the country, we have experience with problems that haven’t yet occurred in other communities. I don’t like seeing good community master planning sacrificed in the rush to build more of anything. Housing of any kind is a growth generator, which begets future workforce, housing, service needs and infrastructure needs.
I’ll work to manage inevitable change.
Since the county has limited financial resources to buy and develop new affordable housing, we need to take advantage of partnerships to build new projects, and enable other entities such as the Aspen Fire Protection District to do the same. We are working with our state legislators to try to reinstate the Real Estate Transfer Tax, which could raise funds to be used for building and purchasing more affordable housing, as well as providing essential worker services such as day care. We continue to work in partnership with other local entities such as the Roaring Fork School District and Habitat for Humanity to build housing, and are working to improve and expand the housing opportunities at the Philips Mobile Home Park.
APCHA’s struggles with issues of fairness and equity have been a real challenge to both the city and county. The recent reorganization of the APCHA board, the implementation of new software to help manage the more than 3,000 housing units in the inventory, and the change in leadership at APCHA all should go a long way to improving the situation. I would like to see all residents treated fairly and equally in enforcement and education about APCHA guidelines.
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The Aspen City Clerk’s Office is looking toward the next, next election in 2021 with two council seats and a mayoral race up for a decision, and an added focus on coronavirus safety when early voting begins in February.