My View KIM HERMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
A unique, "inside" perspective on housing and community development from the executive director of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission
- The Legislature’s New Housing Committee
- For the Bremerton Housing Authority, Bigger is Better
- Connecting the Dots
- A Tip of the Hat to Pete Modaff
- Governor Gary Locke Earns A Friend of Housing Award
Legislature’s New Housing Committee: Seeking the next generation of solutions
This session, the Washington State Legislature is convening a Housing Committee for the first time since the early 1990s. It is startling to realize that our state ranks near the bottom—45th out of 50—in terms of homeownership. In Washington, only 66% of the population own their homes compared to 68% nationally. Two percent may not sound like much, but with more than 2.25 million households, we would need to get an additional 45,000 families into their own homes—just to equal the national average.
Chairing the committee is Representative Mark Miloscia of Federal Way. Mark is serving his fourth term representing the 30th Legislative District, and has considerable prior experience in the public sector as Executive Director of Federal Way Youth and Family Services and Manager of Goodwill Industries of Tacoma.
I recently met with Mark over lunch and he is passionate in his support for affordable housing. He wants to address the entire spectrum of housing issues, which he breaks down into three objectives:
- Develop a ten-year plan to end homelessness
- Address the needs of low-income individuals including the elderly, mentally ill, physically handicapped, domestic violence victims
- Move people up the housing continuum from temporary housing to rentals to homeownership
In King County particularly, the challenge of homeownership is not limited to the unemployed or at-risk segments of the population. Mark talks about his own family situation as a way of illustrating the issue: “Back in 1985, I was a captain in the Air Force and my wife and I could afford a new house in King County for $76,000. Today, my son-in-law is a captain in the Army and he and my daughter can’t afford a house in King County; they have to live out in the rural areas to afford their own house. That’s a snapshot of the problem that’s developed over the last 18 years. We have to address that concern.”
The nine-member Housing Committee formed at the beginning of the year. They are now in the process of creating their agenda. Mark says that the Affordable Housing Advisory Board (AHAB)’s Housing Advisory Plan 2005-2010 will provide a valuable blueprint for the committee. (For more information, see the previous edition of My View, where we discussed the plan with Hugh Spitzer, AHAB’s Chair.)
Because of the scope of the affordable housing shortage, and its urgency, Mark says that he expects to make use of all the resources available to him. “Any solution,” says Mark, “will require the cooperation of the private sector, agencies like the Commission and the government sector working together in true partnership. What has been done in the past by all the people and all the major players is impressive. We already have a strong network of alliances and partnerships in place. The Commission plays a key role by bringing people to the table all across the spectrum of business and government at all different levels.” Mark concludes: “What I’m trying to do is build on what has been done in the past to take us to the next level. We are a new generation with new problems to address. Now we have a new committee and we’re going to solve those problems.”
For the Bremerton Housing Authority, Bigger is Better: The BHA is expanding its role in Washington State and beyond — and benefiting its community at home
In recent years, housing authorities in the State of Washington have been blazing new trails. People here are leading the nation, going beyond the traditional role of owning and managing affordable housing in their communities. There are numerous reasons why this is a growing trend, not least because we in Washington have some of the most visionary and capable housing authority directors in the 50 states. But why are they choosing this path? And where are they taking us?
In exploring this trend, we can think of no better place to start than the Bremerton Housing Authority (BHA), and its director, Merrill Wallace. Under Merrill’s leadership, the BHA has been breaking the mold in its role, since 2000, as a contract administrator across the state for HUD’s Section 8 rental assistance program. But when I heard that BHA had gotten a contract last year from Hawaii to administer its Section 8 rental subsidy program, I was curious.
When I asked, “Why Hawaii?” Merrill Wallace, who’s directed BHA since 1983, wants to take the answer back much further—to the early 1970s. Way back then, he points out, HUD was already attempting to outsource contract administration as it sought to bring more private owners and developers to the affordable housing table. HUD hooked up housing authorities and private developers in efforts to expand the development of affordable housing projects. The administration of 18 of these, located throughout the state of Washington, was handled by housing authorities. BHA was one of them.
Then, in the mid-1990s, HUD wanted to take a bigger step toward privatizing the contract administration side of its operations. This led to the initiative to create Section 8 Performance-Based Contract Administrators (PBCAs) in some 38 states. Bremerton Housing Authority bid on, and won, a five-year contract to administer a significant portion—about three-quarters—of HUD’s rental assistance program in Washington state. In total, it covers about 367 contracts and more than 16,000 units. Here’s where Merrill tells me to don my Hawaiian shirt. A housing authority colleague from Nevada, also a holder of a HUD PBCA contract, wanted to take a look at BHA’s operations. His agency had been asked to handle HUD Hawaiian contracts. He was so impressed with how BHA was able to manage its projects from a distance that he gave Merrill the tip on Hawaii that got the ball rolling.
“This was a real vote of confidence,” Merrill recounts. Hawaii was on the verge of losing their contract for non-performance. They faced a laborious competition for a vendor to come out to the islands to take on compliance. As a public corporation, BHA was able to sail through many legal hoops that a private corporation might have taken months to navigate. And BHA’s operational structure meant they could almost instantaneously hit the ground at a fast clip. The process from contact to completion was speedy—not the kind of timing you’d normally expect of a public agency.
Now the BHA does the vouchers and contract renewals for both Washington state and Hawaii in Bremerton and maintains a satellite office, with a three-person staff, in Honolulu. They handle 47 contracts on the Hawaiian Islands—about 3200 units.
Why did Merrill make the initial leap? Because they can—BHA knew the territory and is experienced at doing it well—and because they believed that their efforts would bear fruit for their local community as well as the property owners and residents impacted by the contracts.
Clarence Nelson, BHA’s Contract Administration Director, puts it this way: “Housing authorities have been at a crossroads. Smaller housing authorities are under pressure in the current climate. It’s becoming an issue of whether you’re going to be smaller or bigger. BHA chose to get a lot bigger.” Merrill voices the real payoff: with resources dwindling from other HUD programs, these contracts allow BHA to secure additional revenues that it can use to provide more affordable housing within its community. “And they’re an economic development booster,” he adds. “We have a tremendous number of talented people here. The additional jobs have been a big plus.”
The contract that BHA sought from HUD in 2000 was the catalyst for it to make the leap to 21st Century operations. Through a Web-based system, BHA employees have access to its entire database—anywhere they can get a signal and connect to the Internet. Wireless, laptops and an agency-wide intranet enable them to work productively from virtual offices.
Merrill believes his team has brought significant benefits to the larger community of property owners and tenants in Washington and Hawaii. During their first year on the Washington contract, they focused almost entirely on educating housing owners and residents. A number of multi-family housing units had been neglected for years because of lack of manpower on HUD’s part.
“From our standpoint, it’s been very successful,” says Merrill. Tenants are more aware of the standards they’re entitled to, and are better informed about whom to contact with questions or concerns. Owner membership associations have become partners with BHA, participating in joint training efforts.
In fact, because the PBCA has worked so well, HUD is starting to look at other programs using it as a model. HUD currently has an RFP out for comments from potential bidders that would take on the rest of its portfolio, following a similar arrangement. But there’s an interesting twist: anyone can bid on this one, even private organizations—and HUD is also bidding on the work itself.
So where is BHA now?
- The 5-year contract with HUD for Washington State has been so successful that HUD has decided not to solicit competing bids this year. In fact, a 15-year renewal with BHA is currently under consideration. That contract is worth about $3.2 million in revenue to BHA.
- BHA is also a subcontractor to Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, which is also a Contract Administrator through HUD on properties in the Pacific Northwest.
- And BHA currently has two additional PBCA contracts pending in Nebraska and Utah. This would increase their portfolio by more than 280 contracts. They hope to hear HUD’s decision on this by the end of the year.
Let’s see: Hawaii, possibly Nebraska and Utah, subcontracting with Kitsap County, leveraging state-of-the-art operations across projects, improved communications with residents and more multi-family residences in compliance, more funding for affordable housing in Bremerton—and more jobs.
In this case, it certainly sounds like bigger is better. I look forward to discussing innovations similar to BHA’s with other pioneering housing authority directors in our state, and sharing their perspectives in upcoming issues of this newsletter.
Connecting the Dots: New CHOC director wants to increase awareness of resources available to homebuyers
Because the Community Home Ownership Center (CHOC) has offices on the same floor of the same building as the Commission, it has been easy to get to know their new director, Jeff Caden.
Jeff brings a 25-year marketing background to CHOC. His background includes commercial expertise as a homebuilder and fundraising capabilities in the not-for-profit sector. Most recently, he was at Lindal Cedar Homes. He’s also been the development director for the Easter Seal Society in Washington state and he serves on the national board for the LAM Foundation.
Keep in mind that Jeff has only been on the job for 60 days at this point, so all of the details are not yet nailed down. In general, he says his plan of attack will be familiar to every marketer: First, get to know his audience. The clients for CHOC’s services are primarily people in Washington state who want to own a home. The secondary audience is service providers—including the Commission—but also local housing authorities, lenders, realtors and anyone who impacts housing issues. CHOC is in the process of surveying both segments of their audience in an effort to get a county-by-county picture of home ownership needs and available resources.
After collecting and analyzing the data, Jeff plans to initiate communications programs. These will be targeted to alert potential homebuyers of the different programs and resources available to them. These include homebuyer education classes, one-on-one counseling and referrals to local lenders, realtors or legal resources that support people who encounter predatory lending practices or discrimination. Jeff sees CHOC’s role as the initial point of contact for potential homebuyers. CHOC is an information portal or triage center. His team greets people, finds out what they need and then refers them to the agencies or other resources will be most helpful. CHOC can connect the dots at the outset of the process for all of us involved in promoting affordable housing in Washington.
Obviously, CHOC’s success can help all of us work more effectively to increase homeownership in our state. For example, over the last five years the Commission has gotten good use of CHOC’s survey of more than 5000 participants in homebuyer education classes. The survey focuses on obstacles to homeownership, and it has revealed significant changes: Five years ago, the biggest obstacle was price; today it’s the down payment. The Commission uses this information to adjust our programs and adapt them to better meet the needs of first-time buyers.
We wish Jeff all the best. If you want to find out more, CHOC’s new website will soon be accessible at www.homeownership-wa.org. Or you can call Jeff directly at (206) 287-4475.
A Tip of the Hat to Pete Modaff: Affordable housing expert and advocate in Congressman Norm Dicks’ office is changing focus
Congressional staffers are a breed apart. They are true movers and shakers, and work incredibly hard to make this a better world for all of us—but they shun the limelight.
This article is a tribute to Pete Modaff of Congressman Norm Dicks’ office. We recently found out that Pete, after close to a decade of incredible, focused contributions to affordable housing concerns, is now working on other issues that impact Rep. Dicks’ 6th Congressional District. Pete’s been around the longest of any staff member dedicated to affordable housing in our Washington state delegation, and he represents the epitome of the kind of team-minded professional you’d like to work alongside. Pete has always been completely on top of the issues, accessible, hard working, and competent in every respect. He’s also totally self-effacing. It took nearly a half nelson to get him to talk a bit about himself.
Originally from the Midwest, Pete’s been working for Norm Dicks for ten years this month—since January 1995. He started out working with a delegation from his native Indiana in 1988. But affordable housing has been a focus for Cong. Dicks even longer. “Norm Dicks has always championed affordable housing since he was elected in 1977,” says Pete, adding, “and before: he started on Capitol Hill working for Senator Warren G. Magnuson in 1968.”
What is Pete most proud of in terms of the accomplishments made by Norm Dicks and his delegation? Rather than take any credit, he is quick to give kudos to efforts on the ground here in Washington state. He says his job was made much easier because of the cooperation and guidance from housing organizations that kept Dicks’ office informed about what was required to get things done.
But, when pressed, Pete shared with us a few of the high points in terms of what Norm Dicks and his Congressional colleagues have accomplished in housing during the past decade. These included co-sponsoring tax legislation to provide funds for affordable housing. And, he says, “Over the past 10 years, there have been efforts within the U.S. Congress to scale back or eliminate federal funding for subsidized housing. Norm Dicks always made it a priority to protect affordable housing, and continue Section 8 programs.” Pete singles out the Salishan HOPE VI housing project in Tacoma for special mention. This project received $35 million in funding in 2000: “Our office worked on this from start to finish. We received strong support for this application and Congressman Dicks did everything he could to promote it. We continue to work with the Tacoma Housing Authority to ensure the success of this program.”
If you’re in housing, developing relationships with your Congressional delegation’s staff members is a critical tool for doing your job effectively. At the Commission, we can’t overemphasize the importance of having Congressional staffers who understand the issues, have longevity, and have the real trust of their Congressman, who make a difference in terms of what happens in housing programs nationally. It really effects how things are going to play out on the local level. That’s been Pete Modaff to a T.
Who’s going to fill Pete’s big shoes on the housing front? Jamie Burgess, a Tacoma native, is now Cong. Dick’s legislative assistant in this arena. We look forward to working with her.
And what’s Pete up to now? He’s still a part of the Dicks team, but his portfolio has changed a bit. Since May of last year, Pete’s been working with the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, of which Norm Dicks is the ranking Democrat. The subcommittee funds myriad departments and services, some of which include the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
We wish you well, Pete—thanks for everything.
Governor Gary Locke Earns A Friend of Housing Award: Recognized for his commitment to improve farmworker housing
On January 10th, two days before his second term ended, Chairperson Karen Miller of the Commission, Janet Abbott from the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development (CTED), Senate Committee Assistant Michael Herman and I had the pleasure of presenting outgoing Governor Gary Locke with a Friend of Housing Award for his commitment to improve farmworker housing in our state.
While many people are not familiar with the significant achievements of Governor Locke’s administration in the area of farmworker housing, these successes were mentioned in a January 9, 2005, Seattle Times editorial.
Here’s how it came about. In 1998, after a flurry of turbulent hearings and media coverage and at the request of farmworker advocates, Governor Locke vetoed a Senate bill that would have reduced the building codes for temporary farmworker housing. After the veto, Governor Locke promised he would not let the issue of better farmworker housing die. True to his word, in 1999 the Governor proposed a $40 million, ten-year commitment to improve farmworker housing through the Housing Trust Fund. He also created a cabinet level task force led by one of his most trusted assistants, Rich Nafziger.
The first $8 million of the money was approved by the Legislature that same year. Later, the task force negotiated an unprecedented agreement between government, growers and advocates allowing temporary farmworker camps to be developed using OSHA standard tents for short periods during peak harvest seasons. This created a new paradigm for work on temporary farmworker housing that has had a lasting impact.
- CTED, working with county governments and through contractors, currently houses more than 920 workers per year in temporary camps and emergency shelters in central Washington each harvest season.
- Since 1999, the Housing Finance Commission, the Housing Trust Fund and a multitude of other funders have financed the development of almost 900 units of permanent apartments for farmworkers throughout the state. Another 250 are currently under development.
- In cooperation with private growers and using money obtained by Senator Patty Murray, CTED has developed an Infrastructure Loan Program and a Rent-A-Tent program to house more than 3,450 persons on-farm in temporary housing during the growing season.
- CTED has also coordinated several projects using innovative design and construction materials in an attempt to lower the cost of temporarily housing farmworkers.
Thanks to the fine efforts of Governor Locke, Washington is now a national leader in the provision of both temporary and permanent housing for farmworkers. Not only did he keep his promise to make farmworker housing a state priority, his dedication led to a cooperative working environment between government, growers and farmworker advocates that will continue to have an impact in the future. For his leadership and dedication, the Commission was proud to present Governor Locke with our Friend of Housing award.