During the Salida City Council regular meeting on Dec. 6, four members from the housing advocacy group BETCH (Bringing Everyone Through The Crisis Of Housing) made another of their recurring appearances to address workforce housing needs. Representatives of the group also appeared this week at the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners meeting.
Their concern: from their perspective (reflecting the needs of their members in the tourism, service, and hospitality sectors) they are now expressing concerns about “diversity, equity, and inclusiveness” regarding the make-up of the Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA) board.
Madelyn Felsch, BETCH board member stated that per the CHA Strategic Plan’s intent to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion, that”…it very is difficult to integrate this perspective without the input of those whom their policies will affect most immediately.” Her ask was that “although it might only be an alternate position at this time…that the CHA board include a member of their community experiencing housing insecurity, whose valuable perspective may inform their decisions more deeply…”
She went on to refer to a CHA meeting she attended on Oct. 26 and claimed a need to “correct a factual inconsistency” in what took place at the time regarding “…BETCH promoting ballot measure 6A” (funding of the CHA). Felsch claimed that BETCH was asked to produce BETCH board member information and copies of their meeting minutes “so CHA could challenge them.” She said BETCH “received confusing treatment.. and was not able to make any conclusions [from this] outside of ‘direct discrimination (against BETCH)’.”
Brandon Becker, another BETCH member referred to a December 6 Chaffee County Board of Commissioners (BoCC) public comment exchange. Becker said he believed that the CHA has “board positions set aside for just this thing… It’s easy to do.” He referred to a possible opening at year-end (an at-large position may become vacant then) and asked if the Salida Council could aid with that.
It should be noted that Salida fills just two of nine positions on the current board, sharing seats with the Town of Buena Vista and the county plus two additional at-large seats. The Town of Poncha Springs has not chosen to be a part of the CHA at this time.
As background, on Oct. 6, 2020 the Salida City Council adopted Resolution 2020-35 “Approving the Establishing Intergovernmental Agreement for the Chaffee County Multijurisdictional Housing Authority and Repealing and Replacing Resolution 2020-31”. Article IV Establishment and Organization of Governance lays out the initial makeup of the Board of Directors, their duties, eligibility for board members, filling of vacancies and a process for adding new members, among other provisions.
The initial qualifications are a minimum age of 18 years and residency in the municipality (unless at-large). Any structural changes to this Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) would require multiple signoffs.
BETCH member Chloe Ribco said “without having a housing-challenged representative on the CHA board, the longer we don’t have a renter representative on the board, we are wasting time. It’s like shooting in the dark when you have a flashlight in your hand.”
BETCH leader Cory “Salty” Riggs closed the comments by saying she hoped to bring BETCH and the CHA board together. Citing previous requests to the CHA (for rental assistance funding, the Safe Outdoor Spaces, etc.) that were denied, she said “the CHA board needs to lead and not just say ‘no’…putting the burden and risk on the housing-challenged.”
In response to the combined citizen comments, Craig Nielson, CHA Board Chair replied to Ark Valley Voice today. “It was discouraging to watch Tuesday’s City Council meeting public comments on YouTube this morning. Many of the comments by members of BETCH were not only inaccurate but appear to be efforts at misinformation, if not outright disinformation.”
“And this is not the first time BETCH has made disparaging public comments directed at the CHA and its Board of Directors and staff,” he added. “Accuracy is important and because these comments were made in a public forum, CHA plans to address this situation in a letter to the editor shortly to set the record straight.”
It should further be noted that within the BETCH board and members, there does not always appear to be a public consensus on housing strategy, priorities and solutions.
Editor note: Three members of BETCH appeared for public comment at the December 6 Chaffee Board of County Commissioner meeting. During that meeting, while BETCH representatives made it known they wanted a member from the rental-challenged community on the board, the BoCC Chair Greg Felt noted that appointing CHA board members, other than the members allotted to the BoCC, was not within their authority. He did add that he had just heard of a recent resignation from the CHA board; meaning that an at-large member slot should come open in January, 2023, and that applying for that spot would be a good place for a BETCH representative to begin a board/committee role.
It should be pointed out that the CHA has been created as its own quasi-judicial organization, and thus the county and the municipalities are participants in it but changing their board make-up, including qualifications and number of board members is up to the CHA. It came about after years of involvement by community members and county and municipal representatives first coming together in 2016 as the Housing Policy Advisory Committee, followed by the creation of a Chaffee Office of Housing and the building from scratch of a countywide housing effort. To say that enormous effort has not already been expended regarding workforce housing is not accurate, or fair. That much still needs to be done is a challenge that must be faced by all residents of this county.