Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Housing authority resurrected

Organization has trimmed its budget by $100,000 in past four months


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Fears that the Blaine County Housing Authority was on its last legs appear to have been unfounded.

During the past four months, the staff and board at the authority have trimmed the organization's budget by $100,000 with the help of Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen and housing authority board member Nathan Fierman, according to Ketchum City Councilman Larry Helzel. Helzel stated in an e-mail to the Idaho Mountain Express that the turnaround has put the housing authority back on track with a sharpened focus, a new executive administrator in Kathy Grotto and a new business strategy.

"They have demonstrated fiscal discipline and financial viability," he said. "Sort of like the phoenix rising from the ashes."

It was only last August that things didn't look promising for the housing authority. That was when the organization presented the Ketchum City Council with a funding request for the coming fiscal year.

"They were bankrupt on a balance sheet basis and were losing credibility with their constituents," Helzel said.

Faced with the startling admission that the housing authority was on the fast track to financial ruin, the City Council tabled the funding request.

"We were reluctant to commit taxpayer dollars to continue to fund an organization that was essentially insolvent," Helzel said.

He said that instead of trying to be everything to all people, the housing authority is shifting its focus to collaborate with other local affordable housing organizations like ARCH and the Ketchum Community Development Corp. Unlike ARCH and the Ketchum CDC, which work to create new affordable housing units, the housing authority is largely concerned with managing the list of applicants for community housing in the county and local cities.

Helzel said the move by the groups to collaborate more closely will ensure that the county has a multi-faceted approach to the critical problem of providing affordable housing.

Helzel said the move also means Ketchum is proud to be a key financial supporter of the housing authority. In light of the change, he predicted that the city will agree to the authority's $70,000 funding request and accept its new contract for services with Ketchum during the City Council's meeting tonight at 5:30 p.m.

Blaine County officials have already done so, Helzel said.

At the county, Commissioner Schoen echoed many of Helzel's assessments. He said much of the work at the housing authority was to bring the organization in line with local groups like ARCH Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit housing advocacy organization.

"They're figuring out ways to complement each other," he said. "Different agencies bring different contributions to the effort."

Schoen said the housing authority is also making an effort to better communicate which services it can and cannot offer. He said recent meetings it has had with Hailey and other cities in the county to discuss the nature of its contract for services with them have been fruitful.

Schoen said locals concerned with the lack of affordable housing in Blaine County decided they'd be harming efforts to turn that around if they let the housing authority fade away.

"They decided they wanted to save this thing," he said.




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