Council spikes housing post

A new $100,000 per year position would accomplish little, most agreed.

After months of work, the field of candidates vying to become the city’s new affordable housing development manager was winnowed to two.

But instead of choosing the one recommended by the mayor, City Councilors on Wednesday chose neither, saying the hiring process – and the issue of whether the position would improve affordable housing – was too divisive to warrant spending the money.

“The intent was to bring in new blood, new ideas, new thinking and new players,” said Councilman Bob Scales, who brought the idea forward during last year’s budget process. “(And) to bring in someone to put deals together and get affordable housing projects going.”

The consultant would have worked alongside local housing agencies and beneath city planner Brent Butler, who was recently hired to fill the position last held by Winslow Tomorrow Manager Kathy Cook.

Butler already is set to spend 25 percent of his time furthering affordable housing initiatives.

The idea for hiring outside help earlier received unanimous support from councilors who, like Scales, were eager to see some movement on the issue.

A panel composed of affordable housing experts was formed to help with the selection process, which often was stifled by internal conflict, according to members.

On Wednesday, the council voted 5-2 – Jim Llewellyn and Kjell Stoknes were the lone councilors to favor it – to deny the award of the $100,000, one-year contract to Sound Community Ventures, headed by islander Bob Powers.

Also vying for the spot was On Time Services, fronted by fellow islander Bill Reddy, who last fall parted ways with the island’s Housing Resources Board, where he served as executive director until stepping down.

Carl Florea, Reddy’s successor at HRB, was a member of the hiring panel.

He and others questioned from the beginning whether the position was necessary, but ultimately continued to participate in the process because others thought it was important.

Florea said creating affordable housing is a struggle not because there aren’t enough players involved, but because it’s a monumentally difficult task.

“Based on my experience a community needs three things to create affordable housing – land, capital and organizational capacity,” he said. “Which of those three is addressed by this?”

Florea said the high cost of land is the biggest obstacle to creating affordable housing on the island.

But Scales, who also was part of the panel, said the process was fraught with conflict from the beginning because Florea and others opposed the idea.

“We spent a lot of time arguing the merits of the contract as opposed to the merits of the candidates,” he said. “I still don’t know what their objections are.”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy’s recommendation for the new hire was made following multiple split votes, the results of which also have been disputed by panel members.

Aside from internal friction, she said, the process suffered from a lack of direction from council. Despite that, she thought it was worth making the hire.

“There are enough possible projects out there that made me think another set of skills could have been helpful,” she said.

Those projects include the 15-acre, city-owned Suzuki property – on which some would like to see affordable housing built – and six acres of land off Ferncliff Avenue, donated to the city earlier this year by islander Lois Curtis for the express purpose of building affordable housing. Also under focus are the Quay Bainbridge Apartments in Winslow, which are said to be for sale to developers.

Scales said creating rental housing should be a focus of the new position, though it ultimately was intended to be an “experiment.”

Scales voted against the contract, he said, because the effort had diverged too greatly from its original intent.

Since the vote only denied the specific contract, there is still a possibility that the money will be used with a similar aim.

“Let’s see if any better ideas come forward,” Scales said.

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