In a sternly worded letter to Mayor Mike McGinn sent yesterday afternoon, three members of the Seattle City Council reminded the mayor of the city's resolution to appoint the Office of Housing director. The missive is a reply to lingering suspicions, confirmed on Monday, that McGinn may seek to modify the office, which manages millions of dollars in voter-approved levy funds to build affordable housing.
Those suspicions were confirmed when McGinn announced he would appoint an interim director, Rick Hooper, but wouldn't commit to finding a permanent appointee. Nor would he commit to keeping the office at all. In a post on the city's website, McGinn asked if the goal of housing production "is best accomplished by having a separate housing office, or should we look at integrating some or all of its work with other departments...?" McGinn says the move could save the city money and helps our housing program jibe with federal grants.
On a letterhead from Council Member Nick Licata (and co-signed by council members Sally Clark and Tom Rasmussen), the trio write, "We share the concern of the housing advocacy community that we urgently need expertise in the leadership at the Office of Housing to address immerging critical issues..." (The full letter appears after the jump.)
The council members cite a resolution passed unanimously by the council last week calling to appoint a qualified person to the position. Also, a 1998 law "requires the City Council to approve an Office of Housing annual work program," the council members write. The city council must ultimately confirm any housing office director.
The Office of Housing is tasked currently with managing the 2009 housing levy, which raises $145 million in property taxes over the next seven years to produce 1,850 affordable apartments, provide rental assistance, and provide other services.
Some housing advocates aren't worried. "If there is some level of merger that aligns our priorities with federal and sustainable community priorities, I am for it," says Chris Persons, exacutive director of Capitol Hill Housing, one of many organizations that receive Seattle housing levy funds. "I don’t think there is going to be a reduction in affordable housing."
The previous appointee to the job, Adrienne Quinn, was widely credited as a tremendous city asset, leveraging past levy funds against county, state, and federal money—and working with a host of nonprofit housing organizations—to build thousands of affordable housing units. She left in February to take job in Washington, D.C.
Dear Mayor McGinn,
Last Monday, March 15, 2010, the City Council voted unanimously to approve Resolution 31189, stating the City Council’s policy goals and priorities for the appointment and confirmation of a new Director of the Office of Housing. Coucilmembers Licata, Clark, Harrell, Rasmussen and Council President Conlin are all sponsors to that resolution. The resolution is included here. We have also included a copy of the 2010 Strategic Work Program, scheduled to be approved by the City Council in April. The Seattle Municipal Code 3.14.750 requires the City Council to approve an Office of Housing annual work program.
As you know, 66% of Seattle voters voted in favor of the 2009 Housing Levy. Low income and affordable housing is a citywide-priority. We share the concern of the housing advocacy community that we urgently need expertise in the leadership at the Office of Housing to address immerging critical issues such as meeting 2009 housing levy unit goals, release of a Spring Notice of Funding Availability, and how best to leverage alternative sources of affordable housing development funding to offset losses in funding availability in other areas. Equally important to these time-sensitive critical issues, is a leader lat OH to continue work with external partners including other public funders and housing advocates to maintain the city’s priority on housing as well as offering some certainly for city employees and the public about the status of the Office of Housing.
With today’s news of an additional change in leadership at the Office of Housing we reiterate our concern that the City should immediately begin its efforts to find an individual with the vision necessary to combine policy, regulatory, and financing strategies to expand affordable housing for homeless people, low-wage working families, and low and moderate income families.
We are writing to you today as the Chair, Vice-Chair, and member of the City Council Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee to urge you to consider the strong support the Council has for the office of Housing as made evident by the Council action approving this resolution and asking that you provide us with an update on your efforts to recruit a new Office of Housing Director.