An Aspen City Councilman’s suggestion to reexamine the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s governance structure prompted questions of what’s broken at a council work session Monday night.
Councilman Adam Frisch last month raised the issue, pointing out that perhaps the governance structure is due for an update, given that the city of Aspen has vastly more resources to invest in affordable housing development than the Pitkin County government administration. Another point of frustration is that any changes to housing guidelines must get majority support from the appointed APCHA board, city council and the county commissioners, which can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process.
Council set the item for Monday’s work session to dive deeper into the issue. Six members of the APCHA board attended, as well as APCHA administrative staffers.
Frisch said he’s been having “lots of discussions behind the scenes” with city and county officials and has made little headway.
Options for changing the governance include re-chartering APCHA as an entity independent of the city and county elected officials or having the city take over a greater oversight role.
Frisch added that the sluggish pace of discussions around potential new policies to address deficient capital reserve accounts that plague many affordable housing homeowners associations informs his frustration, but is not the sole source of his angst.
Council members Ward Hauenstein and Ann Mullins said they both want a better definition of what the problems are before any changes to APCHA’s governance could be considered.
Councilman Bert Myrin, who appeared most supportive toward the shake-up-the-governance position, said there needs to be clear lines of accountability for the housing program.
APCHA board member Rick Head noted that the city of Aspen is spending $1 million to help the housing office automate its records, allowing it to create a searchable database with information on unit status, capital reserves and other information critical to policy formation. While he agreed with Frsich’s point that APCHA should be more focused on policy, he said that with changes that are occurring, the board will be taking a more active role.
“I think throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a little short sighted,” Head said, noting that APCHA needs better information about the capital reserve issue before it can effectively make policy regarding that issue.
Frisch said he remains cautious and sincere in his efforts to make sure the community’s housing programs is at its best. He posited that a higher percentage of Aspen’s population lives in affordable housing than perhaps any other community.
He said he is not trying to shake up the status quo just for change’s sake, but he also said it’s important to reexamine that status quo on a regular basis.
City council and county commissioners will meet in a joint work session on early April where housing is likely to make up a large part of the agenda. It is unclear where the conversation will go from there.
Mullins said that the city would have “a lot of homework to do before we start considering differs models.”