Saturday, June 6, 2020

Council raises concerns about Housing Authority relationships

Board chair promises work toward better communications a priority

by Mark Reaman

Crested Butte Town Council members asked their representatives to the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA) to send a message to the organization that they would prefer a lighter touch used when enforcing rules and regulations with tenants in affordable housing. 

The GVRHA was recently in the process of conducting an “early termination of a lease” with a tenant in Anthracite Place and as word spread of the situation it caused some local concern. GVRHA executive director Jennifer Kermode said that action is very different from an eviction and the administration had “arranged a hearing for the tenant with our grievance committee.” 

That hour-long hearing was held Wednesday, February 26 and the GVRHA grievance committee decided to allow the tenant to complete her one-year lease instead of having her leave in early March. She will now be allowed to stay through April 22 as long as there are no more lease violations and rent is kept up to date.

General issues of communication between management and tenants were brought up during the hearing. New GVRHA board chairman Roland Mason who sat on the grievance committee said, “The board has heard the complaints and wants to work on the communication piece. Anthracite Place is a first for our community and we are still working on what we can do to make it effective. We support our staff but we want to make it comfortable and secure for the people living there,” he said. “It is still a work in progress.”

The GVRHA just completed dealing with the eviction of a family from an apartment in Stallion Park managed by the GVRHA for not paying rent. That situation was going through the county court system and a settlement was reached Monday. Kermode said bad news comes in threes and indicated this week that, “We will have one more eviction coming up for a tenant that has failed to pay rent, amongst other violations that cannot be overlooked.” That situation has a court date scheduled for March 5.

While trying to protect the privacy of the residents in question, the town council asked its representatives to the housing board, mayor Jim Schmidt and councilman Chris Haver, to convey the council’s discomfort with the GVRHA’s perceived heavy-handedness when it comes to dealing with violations of the regulations imposed on the deed-restricted facilities.

“I’m not comfortable with the current situation with the Housing Authority and a resident and how it is going down,” said councilman Will Dujardin at the February 18 meeting. 

“I am glad you brought that up,” agreed councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “It’s not the first time or the first person to have a run-in with the Housing Authority administration. The optics out there are very poor and we need to talk about it in more depth.”

“I respect the rules and regulations but the question is, is there a more gentle and kindly way to enforce the rules,” said councilwoman Mallika Magner. She used an example of the council asking the Crested Butte marshals several years ago to enforce the rules on the books but in a more relaxed Crested Butte manner. That quieted some community grousing about the marshal’s department at the time.

“The reason the Housing Authority is there is to house our people and some are more vulnerable than others,” Magner added. “Is there a way to give more leeway to make it an easier place for people to live?”

“I am on the board and these situations are always difficult,” said Schmidt. “Only part of the story is out there in the public. The Housing Authority has to protect the privacy of its residents so can’t respond to public perception. But we can take the message back to the entire board. It is my understanding that this is the first time this sort of situation has come up. We can go back and talk about how things are done in the future. It is appropriate feedback to give the board. I’m not sure why this latest situation didn’t go to an appeal (in a more timely manner). A previous appeal of a lease not being renewed resulted in the resident still being there.” 

“It doesn’t feel like we’re on the right side if we evict this person from the property,” said Dujardin. “It seems unnecessary. It feels like it got personal between the management and the resident and violations were tacked on as a result. It shouldn’t be going this way. It would feel better if there were something like a grievance committee to review these issues instead of depending on the executive director and the management.”

“It’s embarrassing,” said Mitchell.

“It’s more than optics,” added Magner.

“It is hard to discuss in public,” said Schmidt. “We heard a very, very different side of the story.”

“But we will take these comments back to the board,” assured Haver. 

Mason emphasized Wednesday that the board wants to be more involved with such situations as they occur as opposed to after there is a blow-up. “We all live in this community and we all know each other,” he said. “We all want this affordable housing to work.”

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