Towns could gain more influence over Housing Authority

Director search continues

While the county’s Housing Authority is waiting for a new director, it is also waiting for a new direction.



Since the resignation of the former director Denise Wise in August, there have been 12 applicants to show interest in the position and three will likely have an in-person interview by the end of this month or the beginning of October.
While county personnel director Debbie Moore checks the references of the remaining few candidates, a discussion has just started involving the county and its municipalities about what the future of the housing authority will look like.
 “There has been some discussion about revising and possibly changing the way the Housing Authority is managed,” says county commission chairman Hap Channell.
Originally, the need for housing oversight came from a senior housing facility in the City of Gunnison that fell on hard times. The county stepped in to address the situation, says county manager Matthew Birnie. That put the county commissioners in charge of the idea that would eventually become the housing authority and that structure has stuck in years since.
The authority was created by an intergovernmental agreement in 1996 that tried to address housing concerns throughout the county and within the municipalities.
“There was this hybrid governing model that was being employed where the towns and the city are paying something to the county to operate the Housing Authority,” says Channell.
Part of the language in the agreement was supposed to direct control of the authority to a multi-jurisdictional board that would make operational decisions, which hasn’t happened, says Crested Butte town manager Susan Parker.
“We have representatives that form an advisory board, but the Housing Authority is really still governed by the Board of County Commissioners,” she says.
That configuration gave the impression that the county was in control, because it had final say on decisions that gave the authority its direction.
In the original document, the purpose of the agreement is said to be “to establish a cooperatively funded housing coordinator position…” later saying that the person to fill that position would be a county employee, adding to the belief that the authority would be a county department.
“The agreement doesn’t reflect the current situation either, and that is one reason we’re looking at the governance structure. The Housing Authority has evolved over time into more of a department than an intergovernmental effort. To move forward and to meet the needs of the towns and county we need to look at that,” says Birnie.
An added degree of separation from the county could open up opportunities for more income to fund the authority. Now, the municipalities collectively give the county $45,000 to run the operation.
“I think a reconfigured Housing Authority would have a financing ability above the county as far as the different financing options that would be available,” says Parker.
In many counties around the state, housing authorities function as non-governmental organizations, similar to how the Rural Transportation Authority or Library District operates in Gunnison County.
That is a model that has been suggested for the housing authority here, says Channell.
In that model, it would be easier for the Housing Authority to ask taxpayers for more money to pay for programs like affordable housing.
According to Birnie, there would be a governing board with equal representation from the municipalities and the addition of an at large member that would provide a perspective to the group outside of government. That would eliminate the need for both a governing board and an advisory board.
“Then it is a true authority. An authority is representative of multiple jurisdictions so there would be more broad based support and decision making” instead of decisions being made by the county commissioners, says Parker.
For the new director of the Housing Authority, their transition into the community and the position might be just one part of a larger shift in the housing authority.
“The changes being made are something that we are discussing with all of the candidates and we are looking at their experience with these sorts of things,” says Birnie.
The hiring committee is hoping to fill the position as soon as possible, understanding that there will have to be time for the winning candidate to move, since all candidates are from out of state, and then transition into the community.
“There is a jurisdictional representative from each of the towns and the city [on the hiring committee]. We will hire by joint decision with an eye toward changing the governing structure of the Housing Authority,” says Channell. “This is seen largely as being that first step toward changing that governing structure.”

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