Housing in Summit too expensive for housing director candidate

A candidate for taking over as executive director of the Summit Combined Housing Authority reportedly turned down the job because of high housing costs. Now, the agency is scaling back or transfering some of its duties to local governments as it begins the search anew.
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After nearly seven months without a full-time executive director, the Summit Combined Housing Authority finally had its ideal candidate lined up. Unfortunately, he had to turn down the job because housing is too expensive in Summit County.

The housing authority is a countywide agency that administers a range of programs to help get locals into affordable housing, although some of those deemed less important will be temporarily scaled back or transferred to other jurisdictions as the search for a new director starts over.

“We had one very viable candidate and we extended an offer, but he turned it down because of housing, so that was disappointing for us,” said board member Rick Holman during a Wednesday, April 26 meeting. “We need to regroup and see how we’re going to move forward.”

Last October, former executive director Jennifer Kermode left the post after seven years, threatening to sue over claims she was being discriminated against, among other allegations.

Local governments denied those claims but eventually reached a $35,900 settlement with Kermode, who was recently hired to run the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority.

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Since Kermode’s departure, Nicole Bleriot has served as interim director. She had been hired just a month before Kermode left to serve as the county’s housing director, meaning that she has essentially been juggling two roles at once.

Faced with what could be another multi-month recruitment period, the housing authority is dialing back some of its functions to allow Bleriot to focus more on her primary job as the county’s “housing czar.”

“The county hired her for a different job,” Holman said. “There are a lot of issues we need to address, so two weeks ago we decided to divide up some of the traditional responsibilities until at least next year so we can get on our feet and stabilize this organization.”

When the housing director candidate turned down the job, officials decided to streamline the agency’s operations and dig in for what could be another extended hiring process.

“It was just really important for staff and the board when we received this news that we needed to re-evaluate and say, ‘OK, let’s look at our recruitment strategies as well as how we’re going to keep everything sustainable while not knowing the timeframe here,” Bleriot said.

Some responsibilities, namely deed-restriction monitoring and loan assistance for town employees, will be shifted to local governments — a change unlikely to directly affect residents.

The agency will also be mothballing its real estate sales program, which incentivizes owners to sell to local workers through the housing authority.

Once the agency rebuilds from “one-and-a-half” employees to between four and five, Bleriot said, those programs could return.

But the focus for now will be on programs that more directly serve the local workforce. Those include down-payment assistance loans, housing eligibility applications, deed-restricted home pricing and educational classes for prospective home buyers.

The shift in priorities will free up more time for Bleriot to focus on county-specific workforce housing projects like Huron Landing, where 26 units are slated to be online this summer.

The biggest county project, the 436-unit Lake Hill workforce-housing development, is proceeding about a year slower than originally predicted. But Bleriot indicated that at this point, Lake Hill is still in the very preliminary stages and mainly the purview of county planning staff.

“At the point the new developments are at, we’re mostly in a strategic phase rather than a practical application phase,” she said.

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