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For the week of July 24 - 30, 2002


Housing director sees hope in transition

Kellett to leave Aug. 16

"There is a general political will, where everybody likes the idea of housing, but it is going to take a super strong person to help see the next project through."

GATES KELLET, Blaine County Housing director

Express Staff Writer

As Blaine County Housing Director Gates Kellett prepares for her Aug. 16 resignation, the Wood River Valley is entering a period of transition that could help or hinder local affordable housing efforts.

Kellett is looking to the positive side of the transition as an opportunity to hire someone who is better suited to the Wood River Valleyís needs and to rebuild the organizational structure of a program she said is somewhat dysfunctional.

Itís also a time for someone to lead the charge toward actually achieving more housing, she said.

"This is a time to be decisive, to be a leader. We need a leader," she said. "Thatís something I really want to get across. Someone has to be a leader on this. And this is the political test, to see if the leadership will emerge and be strong. And the next site will be the best site, hopefully."

Kellett is Blaine Countyís third housing director in six years. She arrived a year and a half ago with aspirations of sticking with the job for at least three years, "maybe a lot longer." But she came to build housing, and what she did was tinker with ordinances and fight political battles.

Last winter, Kellett fought for affordable housing in downtown Ketchum on city-owned property only to be denied financing. But the political skirmish over the potential development of a central downtown property also raised local residentsí hackles. The projectís opponents presented vehement arguments that hinged on everything from parking to financing, and, in the end, city officials decided not to appeal when the state denied the funding proposal.

"It is my opinion that, today, the political will isnít there," Kellett said. "There is a general political will, where everybody likes the idea of housing, but it is going to take a super strong person to help see the next project through."

Kellett said her decision to take the housing directorís position a year and a half ago was based on a perception that Blaine County and its cities were ready to build, that former housing directors Karl Fulmer and Steve Amsbaugh had already fought the tough battles and educated the community.

"I said, ĎThis group is ready for the next step.í"

And that is where Kellettís expertise lies. She knows how to fund and build affordable housing. She comes from an urban setting, where she worked for a private developer and helped build multiple affordable housing projects at the same time. And this fall, she will return to Atlanta to head the real estate division of a company called Initiative for Affordable Housing.

"I was very unfulfilled here, because I didnít see myself being able to build housing in the near future. I want to build housing. Thatís all I ever wanted to do. Iím used to working on five or six projects at a time, and Iím certainly able to ratchet that down to work in a smaller placeóbut, nothing?"

Kellett said her departure is an opportunity for the city-county housing programs to hire someone who has the political savvy to help get the Wood River Valley where it needs to be to embrace affordable housing. Itís an opportunity, she said.

"There is going to be a good number of months, maybe years, where thereís just not going to be much bricks and mortar, and this position needs to be almost a pure administrator-slash-policy person, a housing advocate, minus the actual bonus of being able to build housing, and I donít think Iím the best person for it."

While Kellett has announced her resignation, she has not quit trying to push organizational changes she said would benefit the local housing programs. It is not yet clear how Ketchum and Blaine County political leaders are going to weigh in on the ideas.

At a Ketchum City Council meeting July 15, Kellettís presentation to further empower the Blaine County Housing Authority and to dilute Ketchumís direct control over the housing director was postponed. That discussion has been moved to Thursday, July 25, at a noon meeting.

"I believe this change is necessary," she said.

And despite the struggles, Kellett still has a cup-half-full attitude about local housing efforts.

"Weíre on the cusp of being where it needs to be to be successful," she said. "It took Teton County (Wyo.) five years to really start producing housing, with consistent leadership and consistent funding. Itís basically five or six years of getting people used to the idea, spending a lot of time educating, spending a lot of time making people aware. And all of a sudden, people will start to come around.

"I think we are at that place today."


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