Mt. Crested Butte willing to sign on to Housing Authority

Deal contingent on town having a vote

The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council is moving closer to signing a several-year commitment to participate in the countywide Housing Authority, much as they’d done back in 1996 when the organization was first formed.



But in this round, the days of taxation without representation are over, as any agreement signed will put a voting member of the Town Council on the Housing Authority board.
The Gunnison County Housing Authority got its start 16 years ago as a cooperative between the Gunnison Valley’s three towns and the county to keep or create affordable housing and provide support for working families. But over time, and for whatever reasons, Mt. Crested Butte felt it became the county’s Housing Authority, as councilman David Clayton put it, “more or less becoming the organizing and administrative authority.”
The Board of County Commissioners became the Housing Authority board and the towns each took on an advisory role, with financial obligations but little say in how the organization operated.
Then in February, the Housing Authority’s executive director left, giving all parties involved an opportunity to rethink the organization’s governance.
Mt. Crested Butte Town Manager Joe Fitzpatrick told the council at a meeting on Tuesday, April 10 about a renewed effort to reform the Housing Authority to become truly regional—similar to the Regional Transportation Authority—with elected representatives from each municipality directly involved in the decision making. He said managers from each municipality would sit down to discuss an agreement.
A recently hired administrative assistant at the Housing Authority, Susan Eskew, told the council, “The director told [the advisory board] what she was doing and we gave her our opinions but I don’t think she gave them a lot of weight. I think this is an opportunity, now that [the executive director] has left, for a real decision making board to be formed.”
That approach to resurrecting the Housing Authority is gaining some traction among the municipalities. The Gunnison City Council has agreed to participate for the next three years and the Crested Butte Town Council voted April 9 to work out a multi-year agreement with the Housing Authority as long as the governance is changed to give the towns a vote.
Mt. Crested Butte also has more than $27,000 for the Housing Authority written into the 2012 budget, although no money has changed hands yet. Before the council agreed to turn the funds over, they wanted a few questions answered.
“How do we determine the amount that each town was going to put in?” Councilman Dave O’Reilly asked. “It seems to me that the amount seems to be quite high.”
Fitzpatrick responded, “Essentially, you’re funding the executive director and staff … But the county is spending much more than any of the entities are and they really make up the difference.”
Councilman Chris Morgan followed up on O’Reilly’s thought, saying, “When you take a look at the town of Mt. Crested Butte compared to the other municipalities, we have the smallest population, we have the smallest budget, but we’re being asked to pay the same amount of money.
“In an RTA model it’s a sales tax, so the amount you pay is directly proportional to the amount of money being spent in town. What’s the thinking that Mt. Crested Butte should be paying the same amount as Gunnison, which has eight or nine times our population?”
Former county commissioner and chairman of the board of the privately formed Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation Jim Starr urged the council to sign onto the “multi-year experiment” to see how the county’s housing authority could partner with the foundation to leverage more grant money for affordable housing projects in the valley.
Councilman Danny D’Aquila wondered if now is the right time to continue investing in affordable housing, referring to the conversation the council had just finished with a woman hoping to have the affordable housing deed restriction on her property lifted, as her property wasn’t saleable in the current market with the restriction in place.
“Currently up here, there are 98 [affordable housing] units and a hundred or so down in Crested Butte,” D’Aquila said. “If [the homeowner we just spoke with] is already in trouble with the program, how many more are out there that we don’t know about? At what point will affordable housing rebound so that people want to participate when the market already has a lot of these units out there?
“I know why we all put this in place in years gone by and I think we had big vision,” he continued. “At what point do we fade back a little bit and maintain some sort of a position so we’re eligible to get back in the game? Do we need to get back in the game at this level when there are already so many of these [affordable] units out there on the market?”
Starr responded, “You’re right. The timing here is a bit of a challenge. But I think we’ve got to look ahead. If the economy doesn’t come back, we’re all screwed anyway. Bottom line. Yet so far in the history of this country it has come back and it’s coming back now. I think within five or 10 years all of the communities in the county will have a need for workforce housing.”
He told the council that if they could invest the $27,000 now and for the next three years, the benefits would return to the town “four- or five-fold and that comes back to you as funds to build the housing that you are going to need.”
The council members all supported the idea of the housing authority, only expressing concerns with the way the organization is governed.
Councilman Gary Keiser concluded, “I really think we need a public housing authority and I think Mt. Crested Butte should participate. Even though we have a relatively small population, we do have a lot of jobs up here whose workers require affordable housing. So I think it’s our responsibility to participate. Now, I don’t know what that amount should be. I don’t want to waste the taxpayers’ money, but we should do something.”
The council moved to have staff work on an agreement to provide financial support for a countywide housing authority, so long as the town has a voting member on the board. The board will vote on the agreement after a draft is completed by county manager Matthew Birnie and reviewed by Fitzpatrick. No date has been set.

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