City Council, Housing Authority discuss duplication, funding

 — The Steamboat Springs City Council vowed to empower the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, stay out of the “housing business” and improve its coordination and communication with the organization during a meeting Tuesday with Housing Authority officials and the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

“We made more headway tonight than we have in the last two years,” Housing Authority President Mary Alice Page-Allen said at the meeting’s conclusion.

That outcome seemed unlikely at the meeting’s outset. City Council President Loui Antonucci opened the discussion by disclosing that council members had not yet discussed the city’s relationship with the Housing Authority in depth among themselves. Antonucci said the council’s ability to respond to the Housing Authority’s concerns might be limited, which had some members of the 19-person roundtable immediately questioning the purpose of the meeting.

“We, as a Housing Authority, are here to get these questions answered,” County Commissioner and Housing Authority board member Nancy Stahoviak said. “If the council is not ready to discuss it, I truly wonder why we’re sitting here.”

Antonucci repeated his caveat several times throughout the meeting, but the council as a whole proved quite willing to dive into issues concerning the city’s relationship with the Housing Authority.

Recent moves by the city have put the Housing Authority on its heels – and even questioning its existence. In the past year, the city has passed affordable housing legislation, purchased the Iron Horse Inn for workforce housing and hired Community Housing Coordinator Nancy Engelken. Councilman Scott Myller said he understands the Housing Authority’s concerns.

“It very much seems like the city was heading down a path of creating its own housing authority,” he said.

The potential duplication of efforts was a major discussion point Tuesday. The Housing Authority has put off recruiting for a newly created position of housing qualifications specialist because of similarities between that job description and Engelken’s.

“We are hesitant to even go out and solicit for that position, because we don’t know what the city’s position is in that regard,” Page-Allen said.

Both job descriptions discuss the formulation and management of an affordable housing database. The issue was resolved with the consensus that the city would remove that responsibility from the city position and let the Housing Authority house the database. After the meeting, Page-Allen said the Housing Authority would move forward in efforts to hire for its new position.

Money, and the Housing Authority’s need for it, also was debated. Housing Authority board member Ed MacArthur said the Housing Authority needs more resources.

“If you’re going to have an authority, fund it, and let’s go build some buildings,” he said.

Revenue generated by the city’s affordable housing legislation was discussed. There also was consensus on how the Housing Authority might access those funds. Council members said the Housing Authority shouldn’t automatically receive money, but should respond to city bids. Housing Authority officials agreed that such a process was appropriate, but noted that if they had a project in mind, they might take the lead and approach the city to request money.

“I believe the Housing Authority is one tool the City Council can use to accomplish its goals,” Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said. “In the alternative, the City Council is just another source of funding for the Housing Authority.”