Who’s There: Bonnie Osborn
Bonnie Osborn attempted to climb Mount Rainier last year, but a serac that fell on her group prevented a summit. Still, she is accustomed to reaching her goals. She has stood at the top of Kilimanjaro, bicycled across the nation from L.A. to Boston and completed Ride the Rockies three times. She plans to revisit Rainier, but that will have to wait until she attends the Tour de France, where she will ride part of the route.She is a self-described adventurist, but her lofty spirits transcribe into her professional choices, as well. Osborn had a 32-year career in telephone communications that spanned the Bell system, AT&T, U.S. West and Qwest. She started as a clerk and left as vice president. She was the first woman in the company to hold the positions she did for the last 20 years of her career.She first retired in 1990, then “in a weak moment when I was bored,” returned for two and a half years in 1999.She said her success in corporate America derived in her honesty, communication, leadership and the ability to take complex subjects and make them seem simple for people to understand.
“People, I think, just liked to work with me,” she said.Osborn joined the Summit Housing Authority as its executive director last June. She since has been on a quest to inform community leaders about the organization, what it does and whom it serves.Osborn gives the impression that she likes to make things happen, but she uses her communications skills to garner support before launching into action.While educating community leaders about the housing authority, she is at the same time trying to build support for the organization’s goals – to provide more affordable housing for the community.Osborn is focused on bricks and mortar – single family homes – for the area’s professional workers: teachers, fire fighters, mid-level managers and county employees. She initially bumped up against a prevalent thought that housing meant rentals for the area’s ski resort workers, but Osborn said it’s the workers that hold jobs related to community infrastructure that need help.
A “pull your boot straps up” attitude makes it hard to communicate financial realities for today’s local families, she said.”People who came here in the early ’90s or before then, they were actually able to participate (by purchasing in the free market),” she said. “That’s just not financially available today.”She points out that while incomes went up about 6 percent per year during the 1990s, housing costs went up 16 percent.She’s not yet sure whether her message is getting across.”People seem to be in awe of who we work with and what we do,” she said. “It’s like brand new news to them.”When visiting Dillon Town Council recently, a council member asked her, “You mean you’re not here with your hand out?”
That’s been the model for the organization for several years. The office runs on an annual budget of about $300,000. It is funded primarily through those hand-outs from towns and local ski companies. But Osborn is already aware that an inter-governmental agreement signed by local governments through 2006 is not likely to be renewed – cutting the budget by more than 60 percent. So while she wants to fund capital projects to put locals in homes at an attainable price, she is also faced with funding administrative costs.Looking 15 years into the future, Osborn said she would like to see much more housing for people who work in Summit County. She envisions families living a few years in such situations before moving into the free market group, thereby creating a circular pattern so that affordable housing will continue to open up for newcomers. She’d also like people to understand what the housing authority does, and hopes that will lead to permanent funding. She wants the organization to purchase foreclosures and turn them over into deed restricted homes for the affordable market. She wants to head up more projects like Wellington Neighborhood. She is looking at funding sources that would put millions of dollars into the affordable homes market. To accomplish her goals, she will have to work with various governments and possibly take an initiative to the voters in November.
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