Flagstaff may be seeing a new commission, this one dedicated to finding solutions to Flagstaff’s issues of affordable housing, after a decision from the Flagstaff City Council earlier this month.
The purpose of the body would be to make recommendations to Council on how to address issues of affordable housing in the city, be that through changes to zoning code, changes to city housing programs or another bonding question, said Mayor Coral Evans, who brought up the subject.
Councilmember Jim McCarthy agreed, adding the commission should not be restricted to finding solutions through purely government action but also how the city may be able to get private business to help combat the issue.
“I don’t want it to be limited to just government involved affordable housing,” McCarthy said. “That should be part of it, but we also need to focus on market rate, reasonable priced housing and what can be done to facilitate that.”
The affordable housing proposition on the last election's ballot would have set up a similar body, but was shot down by voters.
Council has indicated the body would be made up of industry stakeholders like real estate agents and developers, nonprofits working on housing issues, and citizens.
Council also hoped the commission could be created before the body's summer break. City Manager Barbara Goodrich said the council’s agenda is very full in the time between now and the break, but that staff would do their best to bring the council some options on how the commission would be set up.
Evans also said she would like the commission to have a set of goals or timetables so Council could be provided with suggestions and solutions as soon as possible.
The city already has a group that deals with housing issues in Flagstaff, the Housing Authority Board, but it is limited to influencing the city’s public housing and Section 8 programs.
But as Council is discussing the implementation of a new housing commission, so too are they considering how commissions communicate with the group and vice versa.
The city council generally establishes a commission to advise on a particular topic and is made up of appointed members of the public. The city has 22 commissions on issues ranging from sustainability and pedestrian transportation to parks and beautification.
But Evans said recently, they have encountered situations in which the council and a commission have not been on the same page, leading to a commission seemingly working against the interests of the council.
Councilmember Jamie Whelan agreed with the mayor’s assessment and added the lack of communication between the council and the commissions also means that the city does not benefit from the commissions' work.
“I really think we're missing out on the power of our commissions and how they can serve our local government,” Whelan said. “The truth of the matter is that we have a wealth of our community sitting on our commissions and we're not hearing what they’re thinking.”
Evans suggested the council move back to a previous system in which individual councilmembers were assigned as the liaison to a commission. A number of years ago, this duty of councilmembers was eliminated because some felt it was too much work.
“I was in complete disagreement when we did away with the council liaison positions; I think they need to come back, especially for some of our more active commissions,” Evans said, although she did acknowledge that it will increase the members’ workload substantially.
Councilmember Charlie Odegaard suggested that if Council again implements commission liaisons, members might not need to attend every meeting, but could perhaps meet with the commissions chair once a month.