With increasing frequency we hear about the “crisis” in housing affordability in our community, region, state, and nation. In my 35-year career working with local public housing authorities, I’ve never experienced the level of citizen engagement and concern about distresses in the housing market.
The signs of distress are all around us:
- Increases in the number of persons without permanent shelter --not just the “chronic“ or “visible” homeless -- but students grade K-12, families with children, elderly persons on fixed incomes, and low wage earners.
- Wages not keeping up with cost of rental housing, evidenced by the fact that the hourly wage needed to afford the average rental unit in Kitsap County is now $28.00 per hour;
- Evictions for non-payment of rent are up by 90% in Kitsap County in the last 3 years;
- Average area rents have increased by 10% per year over the last 5 years (2014-2019).
These factors have led to the rise of the term “housing instability” as it relates to the status of renters who are vulnerable to the possibility of loss of housing due to the conditions cited above.
The consequences of housing instability are the myriad of ills and chaos that follows when permanent shelter is lost – homelessness, endangerment of employment, disruption of schooling for children, disconnection of social and familial safety nets, self-medication for depression and anxiety, and increasing risk of domestic violence and abuse.
The work we are engaged in at BHA is focused on creating housing stability for our clients while maintaining our own stability as an organization. To this end, we strive to operate within the funding levels we have while looking for opportunities for additional revenue. We ensure that we do not take on risks that would reduce our future ability to fulfill our mission. We constantly look for innovative and effective ways to maximize the resources available to us to address housing instability in the communities we serve.
Recently, the board of commissioners for Bremerton Housing Authority met with senior BHA staff for an annual retreat, held at Bay Vista Commons. During the retreat we discussed progress towards addressing stability in housing, which included a review of achievements over the last year. These include:
- Bay Vista, Bremerton’s replacement neighborhood where the former West Park Public Housing project stood for over 70 years, continues to fulfill community expectations. A new privately-owned 216-unit market-rate apartment complex is nearing completion and will open for occupancy in early 2020. This year has also seen significant site improvement work in preparation for 120 new market-rate single-family homes. Vacant land on the 83-acre site continues to shrink while vibrancy associated with new residents and uses increases.
- The transition of management services for BHA rental properties in 2019 has brought a multitude of benefits for residents and the community. Costs are down, customer service is up, overall appearances are improved, and occupancy levels are at the highest level in decades – near 98%. Bringing property management in-house has achieved all the objectives desired when plans were initiated to make the change in 2018.
- CMS has taken on additional contract work with the Washington State Housing Finance Agency, bringing in more unrestricted revenue to use in furthering affordable housing initiatives in Bremerton. At the same time, we have received renewal contracts from HUD for PBCA contracts in Washington, Utah, Nebraska, and Hawaii. These renewal contracts assure stability of revenue and staffing levels. We continue to be intensely focused on process improvement and customer service. The importance of CMS to the core mission of BHA cannot be overstated.
- The City of Bremerton expressed confidence in BHA by allocating $100,000 from the city’s General Fund to create an innovative Rental Assistance Program, designed to bring housing stability to renter households in the city with incomes between 40 and 60% of area median income. We’ve worked cooperatively with the Mayor’s office and city staff to reach out to qualified families. Funds for this program were expended well before the end of this year. Staff believes so much in this program that we recommend allocating $100,000 from BHA’s own unrestricted funds to continue the program in 2020.
- Pendleton Place, the tentative name for the joint BHA / Kitsap Mental Health Services effort to build Bremerton’s first Permanent Supportive Housing project, is gaining momentum from a range of stake holders. BHA’s board has commitment $3,100,000 in development funds for the project. With this commitment additional contributions have come to the project including $500,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $735,000 from the state legislature, and $750,000 in CDBG / Home funds. The project will be seeking funds from the state Housing Trust Fund and an allocation of 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the Washington State Housing Finance Agency. Ground breaking on this 74-unit apartment building is expected in September 2020 and completion one year later.
These notable achievements all align with the goals and objections adopted by BHA last year. It has been a good year for BHA. The community has rallied to support our efforts to create stability in housing during a time of increasing threats to the supply of safe, decent, and affordable housing.
At the conclusion of the retreat, the board and staff agreed on the following goals and priorities for the coming year:
Grow the number of households between 0 and 60% of Area Median Income receiving rental assistance from BHA.
Create a measurement of housing stability for use with BHA residents and program participants.
Procure, contract, complete and implement recommendations of capital needs assessments for all BHA-owned and managed properties.
Develop tools and methods for communication of agency updates at least quarterly to staff and constituents.
Develop systems for measuring customer service.
Launch a professional development program for employees.
Launch an employee-driven process improvement program.
Receive at least one new low income housing services-related contract which provides at least $25,000 in revenue above costs by the end of the fourth quarter.
Submit an application to the IRS to create a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity that will support the mission and purpose of BHA.
Develop a feasibility analysis tool and process for evaluation of new business/funding opportunities.
Develop an employee incentive program for cost reductions.
These goals are measurable and will offer connection to sub goals within each department at BHA. We believe these goals and priorities will focus our efforts on maintaining stability of core operations and assist our clients receive the benefits associated with a safe, affordable, and stable living environment.
Click here for BHA Vision, Mission and State of Values.