Aspen councilman questioned by housing board on his motivations to change program
An Aspen city councilman who is championing an overhaul of the upper valley’s housing program got some pushback this week from the citizen board that governs it.
Wednesday was the first time Councilman Adam Frisch had appeared in front of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board in two years.
APCHA board member Dallas Blaney sent an email to the 10 elected officials who collectively sit on Aspen City Council and Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.
He blasted the elected officials on what he perceives as them not understanding how the APCHA board operates and their disconnection from it.
“It’s not clear to me what City Council or the BOCC hopes to gain from denigrating our volunteer board, but I think it’s shameful that they would choose to attack the few citizens who voluntarily commit themselves to the mission of improving our most valuable community asset,” reads the Aug. 5 email. “Certainly if you have concerns with the board you can communicate these concerns to the board members, either directly or as a group. However, I can tell you that I have never received a single communication from any member of City Council or the BOCC during the 18 months I have had the honor to serve.”
Frisch said it’s not the APCHA board that is the problem, but rather it’s within a higher level of government.
Frisch has been working the past nine years 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.
While the APCHA board makes recommendations to City Council and the Board of County Commissioners, elected officials ultimately decide on policy issues.
In recent years, those boards have come to an impasse on issues facing the program, specifically the capital reserves. And not all 10 elected officials are as focused on the affordable-housing program as they ought to be, according to some observers.
That’s why Frisch and others in both governments are suggesting as the first move in an “APCHA 2.0” is to change the makeup of the board so at least two, if not four, elected officials are on it. That way, stalemates between commissioners and council are less likely to occur.
“It seems to be that the fight is between the city and county and we are in the middle,” APCHA board member Rick Head said.
Frisch said while that may have been true in the past, it’s not the reality now. How the system is set up is what’s at issue, he added.
“This board is caught in the middle of a bad governance structure,” he said, adding that an APCHA board with elected officials voting gives it more accountability, and that’s what the community wants.
APCHA board chair Ron Erickson said he thinks the problem lies at the feet of elected officials.
“Part of the community has lost faith in your ability to govern,” Erickson said. “I haven’t heard that they’ve lost faith in our ability.”
Erickson pointed to a new schedule of fines that the board passed minutes earlier in the meeting that’s aimed at forcing people to comply with the rules.
But either council or commissioners can call up the resolution within 60 days of APCHA notifying them it was passed.
“Today is Sept. 5 … let’s see how long it takes to be law,” Erickson said, pointing out how inefficient government can be. “You are wearing concrete booties to get anything done.”
Erickson also said the APCHA board used to have elected officials on it and that was changed a decade ago, so why try it again?
“Don’t you have enough to do?” he asked Frisch.
Frisch said the unique program, which is facing a host of issues as it moves into its fourth decade, along with its contributions to local society, are what motivate him as an elected official.
“It’s one of the biggest reasons I got into public service and it gets the littlest amount of attention,” he said.
He added that he wishes more of his colleagues felt the same sense of urgency as he does when it comes to the issues facing APCHA.
“I’m trying to force people at the table,” he said. “If I go down in flames, I go down in flames, but this is what I want to focus on.”
Head said he supports Frisch’s effort.
“I applaud you,” he said. “We will keep kicking this can down the road until we get it right.”
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