Pitkin County has chosen longtime local real estate broker Sally Shiekman-Miller to help the government spend its $10 million housing fund.
Shiekman-Miller, currently an agent with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s, has sold real estate in the area for 20 years. For the last four years, she’s also served as the broker for the Aspen School District. She hasn’t yet met with the full board of commissioners about her duties.
“I know they have a certain amount of money to spend and they want it to go as far as it can,” Shiekman-Miller said. “But we haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and identify what the county’s goals are.”
The county commissioners haven’t yet approved a contract for Shiekman-Miller’s services, but assistant county manager Phylis Mattice informed them on Tuesday that county staff had chosen the broker from the field of candidates.
The county had been taking candidate applications for the gig since April. Commissioners agreed this spring that they needed to hire a broker to assist with spending the government money amassed through impact fees and payments in lieu of affordable housing. They have floated ideas of buying property for new affordable housing development, and purchasing existing properties for employee housing.
Shiekman-Miller will be tasked with evaluating and negotiating the purchase of real estate for affordable housing in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
The commissioners approved a spending budget of $2.3 million for this year from their housing savings, and could potentially spend more to take advantage of a perceived buyer’s market between Basalt and Aspen.
Shiekman-Miller’s selection comes as city and county officials are preparing for a planned September summit on local housing issues. The meeting is expected to address current and future government-subsidized housing demand in the Aspen area, and take a close look at the governance of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.
During a discussion about the summit Tuesday, Commission Chair Michael Owsley was critical of the concept.
“I just don’t see it working, I don’t see it working at all,” Owsley said.
He noted that the last time local governments had a housing summit — in 2007 — it resulted in the $18 million purchase of the BMC West lumber yard near the airport for affordable housing, among other land banking purchases.
“That was a horrendous miscalculation,” Owsley said of the lumberyard buy, “so we need to be careful about this summit.”
Despite his qualms and other board members’ concerns about trying to do too much in a one- or two-day summit, the board agreed it should participate. All five commissioners stressed the need to make the summit topic-focused and goal-oriented.
“We have a lot of government dollars going toward this [affordable housing] program,” said Commissioner Rob Ittner. “We need to assure the public we have efficiencies in this program. We need to assure the public that there is public benefit in this program.”
Ittner also suggested the summit should devote time to lessons from affordable housing mis-steps and failures.
“We often wash over our failures,” Ittner said.
The commissioners also said they want to collaborate with Aspen City Council and APCHA on integrating social services into the program. Owsley said the county will push to end policies that led to APCHA evictions of unemployed tenants over the last year.
“That has got to be changed,” Owsley said.
The summit began as a city of Aspen-focused initiative, Commissioner George Newman reminded the board, and the commissioners asked to be included this spring.
“In essence, we invited ourselves to the table,” Newman said.
He suggested the city and county hire a professional facilitator to run the summit, keep it on topic, and provide an unbiased perspective.
The commissioners are expected to review an agenda of the summit later this summer.