Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority is considering bringing on a hearing officer to handle appeals that currently go directly to the agency’s board of directors.
The APCHA board discussed the policy proposal at Wednesday night’s meeting and will vote later on a recommendation. Both Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners must sign off on any policy changes supported by the APCHA board.
APCHA executive director Mike Kosdrosky said bringing on a hearing officer to handle appeals would streamline the current process and make it more fair for all involved. It would also reduce the burden on the APCHA board, which he said spends an inordinate amount of its time dealing with compliance and grievance appeals, when its focus should be on policy.
Any decision from a hearing officer could still be appealed to the housing board, under the proposed update to APCHA’s guidelines that would implement a hearing officer review process.
APCHA residents are required to work full time in Pitkin County while maintaining their affordable housing dwelling as their sole residence. Among other rules, they also must not sublet their homes to unauthorized residents or guests.
The agency deals with scores of compliance cases each year, and if a resident disputes a staff finding that they are violating the housing guidelines, that appeal goes directly to the APCHA board.
Besides being inefficient, that process can become politicized, Kosdrosky said. It also can be worrisome for the volunteer board members, who are appointed by city and county elected officials.
“Some of them feel there could be repercussions for the decisions they make,” Kosdrosky said.
Having a hearing officer would help standardize the process, Kosdrosky said, noting that both the city and the county use such a process for various administrative appeals.
Adding a hearing officer will help increase public confidence in the housing program as APCHA ramps up its education and compliance enforcement efforts, he said. APCHA is in the process of creating a new staff position that would be devoted to compliance full time.
The hearing officer would be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the APCHA board. Kosdrosky said the position would be paid.
According to proposed revisions to the guidelines, the officer would conduct proceedings in a noticed public hearing and all hearings would be recorded.
“The hearing officer may approve, approve with conditions or deny any matter subject to his or her review,” the proposed guidelines state. “The decisions of the hearing officer shall include findings of fact and conclusions of law, and shall be made in writing, signed and dated.”
Those decisions would become effective after 15 days, unless there is an appeal to the APCHA board. In that case, the appellant would have to pay to have a transcript made of the hearing, while presenting their grounds for an appeal in writing.
The board could decide the appeal based solely on those records.
“The board shall not consider additional evidence unless there is a demonstration of excusable neglect, misrepresentation or other misconduct in the proceedings before the hearing officer,” the proposed language states.
The APCHA board would have the power to affirm, modify or reverse the hearing officer’s decision, or it could remand the matter back to the hearing officer “for the receipt of additional evidence and reconsideration.”
The besides enforcement and compliance cases, the hearing officer would also handle matters of special review — such as whether a family qualifies for affordable housing given unique circumstances — as well as other grievance cases.