Aspen’s affordable housing board wants out of politics

The citizen volunteer board that oversees the local affordable housing program wants to get out of the unenviable position of deciding residents’ fate when it comes to enforcing the rules.

The board this week directed Mike Kosdrosky, executive director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, to move forward with his proposal to hire a third-party hearing officer.

The position would be on a contract basis and would come out of APCHA’s operational budget, which the county and city equally share.

Kosdrosky told the board that City Manager Steve Barwick and County Manager Jon Peacock support the proposal.

The “magistrate” position is designed to standardize APCHA’s appeals process of special reviews, enforcement and grievances.

“It can become political and puts the board in an awkward position,” he said, adding that he expects more cases to surface once a compliance specialist is hired and a fine system is established for rule breakers.

“This will allow you to do more policy work instead of dealing with disputes, especially since we’re only going to see more of this, most likely,” Kosdrosky told the board.

There have been 18 cases, which include appeals of violations, eligibility reviews or special reviews, in the past five years. The most recent appeals case was a couple of months ago and involved a woman who was forced to sell her Snowmass Village unit for violating APCHA’s rules.

And a special review committee has been formed in the past that has included one city employee, one county employee and an APCHA board member to hear special cases. A controversial one came before that group in 2016 concerning a city employee.

Kosdrosky said the motivation for the hearing officer is not necessarily a result of the number of appeals that come before the board but to improve the process and the system. He said it would ensure consistency in the way APCHA handles and decides cases in the future.

Having a third-party reviewer also would reduce APCHA’s legal liability and risk, save administrative costs, remove political pressure on board members, and increase the public’s confidence and trust in the program.

“It’s a more reliable and transparent process that way,” Kosdrosky said.

APCHA board chair Ron Erickson said it’s not a great position to be in when a working local is pleading his or her case in front of himself and his colleagues.

“I know how hard it is to sit here and listen to people and decide their future,” he said.

Kosdrosky will bring a resolution to the board at its June 6 meeting that would give its blessing to the position. A request for proposals would likely go out to solicit qualified candidates.

It’s not known how much a contract position like this would cost. Kosdrosky said it would require more funding, but he hopes to offset the cost with the revenues received from fines levied on scofflaws within the program.