Proposed cuts would gut Kitsap County affordable housing programs

BREMERTON — President Trump’s proposed budget completely ignores the homelessness and affordable housing crisis in Washington state, according to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington.

“Under the budget proposal, nearly $800 million would be cut from housing assistance meaning approximately 6,128 families in Washington state would lose access to housing vouchers further exacerbating our homelessness crisis.” Cantwell reported.

“The proposal will hinder Washington’s ability to address the affordable housing crisis by cutting funding for public housing improvement projects by $1.8 billion, including $21.2 million in Washington state as well as completely eliminates the HOME Investment Partnership program, which provided nearly $19 million for Washington communities to build affordable housing last year.”

So how would the cuts affect affordable housing in Kitsap County?

Bremerton Housing Authority and Housing Kitsap, which serves the rest of the county, are the two organizations responsible for most of the affordable and low-income housing in the county. Kitsap News Group asked their CEOs to provide a list of cuts or reductions they anticipate if the proposed budget is passed. Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

From Housing Kitsap:

If the fiscal year 2018 budget request were to move forward as proposed, Housing Kitsap would have to eliminate the following programs in its single-family department:

Self-help housing (“sweat equity” homes) would be eliminated due to the loss of Self Help Opportunity Program 502 and 523 funds.

Down-payment assistance, which helps to qualify homebuyers on the lowest end of the income bracket we are able to serve, would end due to the loss of Community Development Block Grants and HOME Home Investment Partnerships program funds.

Home rehabilitation. This program for low-income elderly and the disabled would end. This program helps homeowners who need health and safety repairs, but can’t afford them.

Public housing and housing choice voucher programs for Kitsap County outside of Bremerton (also known as Section 8) would have to absorb a significant financial decrease. This would mean Housing Kitsap may not be able to serve as many families and individuals outside of Bremerton in each of the programs.

The planned Viking Avenue apartments in Poulsbo and the Silverdale respite care/apartment projects would have to be funded through conventional financing and private investments — different sources than the not-for-profit has traditionally used.

Future USDA Rural Development multi-family properties. The five completed USDA Rural Development multi-family properties — Finch Place, Windsong, Fjord Manor, Fjord Vista II and Rhododendron — are in operation due to Rural Housing mortgage loans from the USDA. The proposed budget wouldn’t effect existing loans. However, the option for future, similar projects would be eliminated.

Rental assistance. Many residents at those developments also receive Rural Development Rental Assistance. The decrease in available Rental Assistance funds could potentially leave current assisted households without the option of subsidy.

Housing Kitsap’s HUD Multifamily Project-Based Rental Assistance program. Participating properties may not be able to renew or renew the full Housing Assistance Payment contract with HUD based on the $771 million cut proposed to the program. Any final contract would depend on HUD’s policy reform in reaction to the new budget.

Depending on final numbers, lack of a Housing Assistance Payment contract could leave up to 132 current assistance households without a subsidy and forced to pay higher rent amounts.

Given this change, we would have to find more creative ways to continue developing affordable housing and supporting our families, including the use of conventional financing, other grants, private foundation investments and public-private partnerships.

— Stuart Grogan, executive director, Housing Kitsap

From the Bremerton Housing Authority:

Not only would the proposed budget have severe fiscal impacts on our current programs, it would compound the significant reductions we’ve experienced from federal appropriations dating back over a decade,”

The two main programs BHA operates are Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and Public Housing.

Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. Under the Housing Choice Vouchers program, BHA currently assists about 1,550 households in Kitsap and Mason counties living in privately-owned rental units. (Note: BHA manages Housing Kitsap’s Section 8 program, so their households are included in this number.)

The proposed budget would reduce rental subsidies by 4.2 percent. At present, the average wait time to receive a rental voucher is over five years. With the proposed cuts, the wait time will be even longer.

Public Housing. The public housing program has 200 units in Bremerton that, by law, can only charge residents rent equal to 30 percent of their monthly income. HUD gives us an operating subsidy that should make up the difference between the tenant’s portion and the actual cost of operating the property.

The proposed cut under the president’s budget proposal is 13 percent. In recent years, HUD has never paid more than 89 percent of the actual costs. This proration, if implemented in the president’s budget, will now go down even further. Because we can’t raise tenant rents, we are left to figure out how to operate safe, decent, and affordable properties with frighteningly low amounts of funds.

The president’s proposal also calls for a 67 percent reduction in funding for capital improvements such as roof replacement, energy efficiency upgrades, and replacement of essential building components such as plumbing, siding, exterior lighting, elevators, etc. Plus, it further reduces administrative fees to almost 20 percent below what HUD says the fee should be.

We’re proud of the condition of our inventory of housing. But it’s simply not realistic to sustain a high level of performance and appearance on continually diminishing revenues.

— Kurt Wiest, executive director, Bremerton Housing Authority