Part of the job will be reconfiguration
After two and a half months, Gunnison County has hired a new Housing Authority director. The county’s hiring committee chose KT Gazunis to take the position, along with the task of reconfiguring the authority into a new role of governance.
Gazunis will start Wednesday, November 19, after leaving her current post working with low-income housing projects in Los Angeles as the president and CEO of the 1010 Development Corporation. She has held that post since January.
“When we had the final interview with the two finalists, there were three groups that did separate dialogues with them both… and it was just unanimous that KT was the best fit,” says county manager Matthew Birnie.
Gazunis lived in western Colorado for 40 years, growing up in Grand Junction and moving to central Colorado, where she worked for the Eagle County Housing Department and Habitat for Humanity in Eagle and Lake counties, before moving to southern California.
In her new position, she will not only take on the responsibilities of former director Denise Wise, who resigned in August, but she will also be responsible for a reconfiguration of the authority, which some believe has drifted away from the multi-jurisdictional form of governance that was originally intended for it.
“In Eagle County, the Housing Department was facing many issues similar to those that Gunnison is dealing with,” says Gazunis.
Here in Gunnison, the various county entities are just looking to become a part of the process, after the current authority left them largely out of the loop and at the will of the Board of County Commissioners, which took on the role of governance when the Housing Authority was created by an intergovernmental agreement in 1996.
At that time, the intent was to address housing concerns throughout the county and bring the housing needs of the county’s municipalities into the fold, but some say it never happened.
“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.
One of the things Birnie and others have suggested to deal with that shift is to rework the current governing structure, which is comprised of an advisory board, with representatives of the local municipalities, and the Board of County Commissioners.
“I don’t want to come in with any preconceived notions about what needs to be done. I want to listen to people so that we can have a sense of consensus,” says Gazunis.
Some of that work has led a few county leaders to ask if the Housing Authority should become a non-governmental organization, like the Rural Transportation Authority or the Library District, which can raise money through taxes, instead of relying on the municipalities for funding.
Crested Butte town manager Susan Parker and Hap Channell, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, have both said they feel a reconfigured Housing Authority would have more financing options available.
Gazunis says she is up to taking a fresh look at the issue of providing affordable housing, which has been a major part of her career from Eagle County to Los Angeles.
Gazunis says she understands that conversation is already under way locally. “There has been some work done on this already and I don’t want to presume too much,” she says.
And if her time spent around Colorado mountain towns has taught her anything, it is to be flexible.
“In a perfect world the free market fills the demand at all levels for housing. In the mountain region, however, it is supply versus demand and there is not an unlimited supply of land close to amenities, and there is a lot of private land along transportation corridors,” she says.
“Whenever a commodity is scarce, it is expensive. Then the nature of the resort is not going to push back on price until it’s way up there and then the free market isn’t operating in an unbiased way. It’s being manipulated by the circumstances.”
Gazunis says government can play a role in helping people with fewer means escape those circumstances by bringing about a more favorable housing climate through its policies.
“That doesn’t mean government has to do it all, by any means, but they might coordinate with a contractor or coordinate with a partner to do the minimum amount necessary to level the playing field a little bit,” Gazunis says. “There are a variety of ways government can participate without doing everything itself.”