The way to improve the housing authority’s decision-making process is for its governing agencies to have more joint meetings, officials said on Tuesday.
The housing authority has struggled recently with the current process, which prevents the housing board from making what it might consider as necessary, “no brainer” changes to guidelines that govern affordable units. The current process requires requests to be approved by all three governing agencies involved in housing, which include the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) board, Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County commissioners.
The issue was one of four tackled at a two-part housing summit between the agencies that wrapped up Thursday.
“I think the current process of amending guidelines is not serving the community at all,” said councilman Adam Frisch. “...There’s an agreement that nothing gets finalized.”
Frisch suggested giving the housing board the authority to change guidelines without requiring additional approval from council and the commissioners. Those agencies could then use a call up process to review the board’s decision if someone felt the need, Frisch said.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield disagreed with Frisch’s suggestion, arguing that elected officials should have a say in guideline changes. Members of the housing board are appointed by council and the commissioners.
“A conversation has to be had,” Hatfield said. “ ... At the end of the day we’re elected to be responsible for a whole plethora of ideas.”
Commissioner George Newman agreed that a call up process wouldn’t work, because with so many people involved every decision would likely be called up, he said.
“Somebody’s going to call it up,” Newman said. “We’re really not gaining anything in that process.”
Instead, the housing board should bring suggested guideline changes to joint meetings where a discussion can take place and the decision made collectively, Hatfield said.
Overall, the communication between the different agencies regarding the housing program is nonexistent, said Commissioner Rachel Richards.
Commissioners Newman and Rob Ittner each noted that the summit was the first time that they had ever interacted with the housing board while Councilman Derek Johnson said he had never been in the same room as the board.
“In the two years I’ve been a county commissioner I’ve never seen a proposal from APCHA,” Ittner said.
Councilman Steve Skadron also questioned the Housing Frontiers Group’s role in influencing the housing authority. The group, made up of volunteer community members, operates informally and meets weekly to discuss the affordable housing program. Attendees come up with ideas and solutions to the housing program’s challenges and relay that information to the board. The group came up with about 75 percent of the summit’s agenda.
By identifying problems and coming up with potential solutions, the Housing Frontiers Group is doing the job of the board and adds another player to the equation, Skadron said.
“It’s an enormous frustration for me,” Skadron said. “It complicates the process.”
Tom McCabe, director of APCHA, said Housing Frontiers Group fills a void that exists, because the housing authority doesn’t have the resources to do that kind of work. As it is, the workload of APCHA’s 13 staff members is overwhelming, he said. There needs to be about 15 people to be able to fulfill all the duties required of APCHA effectively, while coming up with creative solutions to problems, McCabe said.
City and county staff plan to look into potentially increasing APCHA’s resources.