Housing summit to resolve issue of board’s authority

by Dorothy Atkins, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Members of the citizen board that oversees the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority program said they feel powerless when dealing with locals who come before them, and today’s housing summit is supposed to address what their role should be.

The second day of the housing summit wraps up today, and on the agenda is local government officials’ discussion regarding what authority the APCHA board has to enforce and change guidelines that govern affordable units. The summit will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in council chambers in the basement of City Hall.

The extent of the housing board’s authority has been a point of frustration for months. Often times, homeowners go before the board asking for approval only to find out later that it doesn’t have the authority to grant the request.

Recently, that was the case for W/J Ranch homeowner Richard Chelec, who went before the housing board in September asking for the asset cap to be removed from his resident occupied (RO) unit. Potential buyers opt out of purchasing homes with the restriction because the cap is fixed and they will have a problem selling, argued Chelec.

After it tried to give Chelec a final approval, county officials told the housing board it didn’t have the authority to remove the cap because it could change policy on all RO units and would be a precedent setting move. 

“Poor guy keeps coming back to us and we keep giving him our approval saying this is what we want,” said board member Erin Smiddy. “... We’ll make a recommendation but then it will go before [City Council] or the county commissioners when we’re the ones that constantly deal with housing stuff. I feel like our opinion should be more important, it should be cut and dry but then it gets chopped up ... to me that gets a little frustrating.”

As it stands, it appears as though the housing authority only has the power to enforce compliance, Smiddy said. Hopefully the issue will be cleared up at the summit, she said.

“I’d like to see where our power lies and if we don’t have any power then I don’t see why people come to us,” Smiddy said.

The confusion over who has the ultimate authority is due to the fact that there are three different agencies involved in the authority’s governance. Those agencies are the city, the county and APCHA. A document called a “intergovernmental agreement” (IGA) determines what agency has the authority over housing decisions at any given time, or in a particular instance.

Board member Marcia Goshorn said one of the greatest challenges created by the IGA is how long the process takes to change minor details in the authority’s guidelines. For example, it took four years to get certain items added to APCHA’s capital improvements list, because each had to be approved by the county commissioners, council and the housing board, she said.

“To me it made no sense,” Goshorn said. “... They were things that weren’t controversial. They were fairly simple, no-brainer kind of things and four years later we finally got the answers.”

The housing board has spent $2,000 hiring an outside attorney who specializes in IGAs to attend the summit and represent APCHA. Goshorn hopes that the attorney will offer a legal perspective on where the board’s authority lies, she said.

Councilman Torre attended a housing board meeting last week and asked its members when was the last time they submitted a letter to council or county commissioners articulating their concerns. Joint-alternate board member Bobbie Burkley said that they had been waiting until the summit to bring up the conversation. That is not a good excuse, because when people pass off discussions nothing gets done, Torre said.

“I hate that,” Torre said. “And we saw that a lot with the [Aspen Area Community Plan]. Everybody’s waiting for a process for some other process. I don’t buy into that ever. I hear frustration from you as a board, but it’s hard for me to do anything about it when I don’t know about it and if it’s not been brought to my attention.”

Torre suggested that the housing board make a point on its agenda in each meeting to address what concerns or information the group would like to pass on to council and the commissioners. APCHA was created in a way that incorporates the city and county, but there are still ways to communicate in between the agencies, Torre said. Still, the board’s job is to advise the council and the commissioners, he said.

“This board is a third-party suggestive board except for your powers of appeals and those kinds of things,” Torre said. “It’s a three-headed monster. That’s how it is and the things that you guys deal with are so serious that they do have to get checked off and cleared.”

In addition to clarifying governance issues, Aspen City Council, Pitkin County commissioners and the housing board will address what kind of social services — if any — should be incorporated into the APCHA program.