The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board voted unanimously Wednesday to participate in a public-private affordable-housing project after three Aspen City Council members apologized for an expletive-laced tirade another city official directed toward the all-volunteer board last week.
On Dec. 11 — following a joint work session between the council and Pitkin County commissioners to discuss changes to the APCHA governance structure — assistant city manager Barry Crook referred to housing board members as “mother-f—-ing extortionists,” according to sources. The comment was made in front of several local elected officials as well as APCHA executive director Mike Kosdrosky.
Crook’s comment came after he learned that earlier on the same day, the APCHA board tabled action on the city’s request for the organization’s participation because APCHA wanted a financial concession from the developer, Aspen Housing Partners LLC. The board was seeking a stipend to cover the cost of future operational burdens APCHA was expected to incur in relation to the project.
Crook announced his resignation on Friday after working for the city for 13 years. Though he had planned to continue working for an unspecified amount of time to assist in a staff transition, he has been placed on paid administrative leave, according to City Attorney Jim True.
APCHA’s board on Wednesday agreed to move forward with the project after the city announced that Aspen Housing Partners had agreed to provide $207,500 up front to APCHA to help offset its future costs. A representative of Aspen Housing Partners attended the brief meeting as confirmation that the development group had agreed to the stipend.
Just minutes before the vote, three of Aspen’s elected officials sought to make peace with APCHA. The housing entity’s participation in the project was necessary because of its nonprofit status, which will save the city millions for the project that is being partially financed by tax credits.
“What happened after the Dec. 11 meeting was incredibly unfortunate and I’m just here to apologize personally as well as a member of the city council …,” Councilman Adam Frisch said. “Speaking for city hall, we’re just embarrassed and it was an outrage and we’re just here to apologize, I’m here to apologize.”
Frisch continued his apology directly to Kosdrosky, the board and APCHA staff.
“I know we’re all trying to do the right thing,” Frisch said. “There’s a lot of discussions that we started having that was well done on the 11th and we need to continue on in January. I hope that we can get over this hump and move on.”
Frisch alluded to the fact that the city waited too long to tell APCHA that it needed its help with the project. The city didn’t inform the housing entity that its partnership was necessary until Dec. 6. The city and the developer hope to start the project this spring, and a complicated closing of financial arrangements for construction lending is expected to occur within the next few days. The project involves 45 units on three city properties.
“I had told some other people that while we knew that there was going to be some legal documentation that had to be done in a hurry, by the end of December, there should have been a discussion many months ago about the philosophy of what we wanted to work on and talk about and get into,” Frisch said.
Council members Ann Mullins and Ward Hauenstein also spoke to the board to offer apologies.
“I sincerely apologize for what happened the other night,” Mullins said. “I was not there to see what went on, but I did hear about it later from numerous people and I apologize to Mike and the board.”
Hauenstein called what happened last week both inexcusable and regrettable.
“It was inappropriate and did harm both to the APCHA board personally and to the project,” he said. “I think every one of us has said things in the past that we regret saying, and I certainly have things I wish I hadn’t said. The assistant city manager’s comments have exacted a high price.
“I would ask you to forgive those statements, not forget but to forgive, and thank you for all of your work and I look forward to the discussion to follow.”
Housing board members thanked Kosdrosky and APCHA attorney Tom Smith for working with the city and the developer to iron out disagreements. Last weekend, officials arrived at a proposed concession to the housing authority of $410,000, perhaps coming from the city’s housing fund, with a plan for the payments to be spread out over a 15-year period — similar to a previous concession APCHA received from a developer for an affordable-housing project built in Basalt.
The plan for the lower $207,500 up-front payment from Aspen Housing Partners was apparently hammered out within 24 hours of Wednesday’s meeting.
“Mike has done an extraordinary job in the last week,” said APCHA board member Chris Council. “There’s been a lot of back and forth, a lot of heartache, and a lot of stress, and I think Mike has handled it very well.”
Council added that he was comfortable with the lower fee.
“I would have liked to have seen it higher,” he said. “I recognize that the cost over 15 years to APCHA is probably closer to $400,000. I think it’s important to recognize our costs up front and that it’s really important to capture those costs from the developer, not from the city, not from the [housing] fund. …I think this is a really good compromise.”