Time for a new housing office?
At least one Aspen City Council member thinks the building ofaffordable housing should be taken out of the hands of the HousingAuthority.According to Councilman Jake Vickery, the planning and constructionof new projects should be put under the control of a new entityof some kind.”I’m really interested in setting up a new component for the housingdevelopment program,” he said Tuesday.Vickery, who is up for re-election in May, has yet to decide whetherhe will run again or retire. But a central plank of his campaignplatform, should he decide to run, would be to revamp the constructionend of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority’s job description,he said.”I think the existing Housing Board is overtaxed,” he said. Heexplained that in recent months there have been serious problemsdeveloping in the housing program, including botched cost estimatesand disputes with other government boards about what kind of housingshould be built and where.Last week, city officials chastised housing office staffers forcoming to a council meeting unprepared to answer questions orexplain the latest cost estimates for the troubled Snyder Parkhousing project.”I don’t think they can do both things well,” Vickery said ofthe Housing Authority’s ability to both manage the housing inventoryand be in charge of building new projects. It might be time forthe building program, he said, to “be put in someone else’s hands.”One possibility, he said, is to form a nonprofit arm of the HousingAuthority that would be strictly charged with building new housing.This, he said, could be “some kind of board or group” that shouldhave access to people with “much deeper experience than the existinghousing office” in terms of the building of projects.He said he believes the suggestion is timely since the city’svoters are being asked to reauthorize the city’s housing/day-caresales tax in May. “I think there’s a lot of disillusionment aboutwhat’s going on [with the affordable housing program], and a lackof confidence. We need to get something that’s working for everyonehere.”Others on the council agreed that something needs to be done withthe housing program, although they had not discussed Vickery’sidea and could not address it specifically.”I think they definitely need to get more involved with the privatesector,” said council member Jim Markalunas. But, he agreed withVickery that the housing office should not turn its program intoa cash cow for local construction firms.”The cost of providing affordable housing has far exceeded ourability to provide it,” he said. “We seem to be losing ground.”He said the housing office “may be a little top heavy” with administrators,and lacking in staffers with extensive project management backgrounds.Both Markalunas and fellow council member Rachel Richards saidthey are open to hearing anything Vickery might propose.”I think discussions about different ways of doing things couldbe real healthy,” said Richards, who, like Markalunas, had nottalked with Vickery about his ideas or about possible changesin the housing program.
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