The Kitsap Sun’s Editorial Board got a state of the housing authority update Wednesday from Tony Caldwell, who took over as director of the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority March 1.
Caldwell stepped into an agency that has been digging itself out of deep financial trouble over the past couple years. The county assumed roughly $44 million in debt on behalf of the agency after sales on a housing authority-owned condominium project in Bremerton failed to pan out. The agency has paid back about $15 million of its obligations through sales of some of its properties, including the remaining condos, and it’s undergone a complete financial restructuring.
Caldwell, former chief administrative officer for the Housing Authority of Monterey in California, said he and his staff of 45 will be “looking at every penny” for the foreseeable future. Caldwell and the board will continue to scrutinize the “structure” of the agency to see where they can wring even great efficiency from their precious resources. So don’t hold your breath to see the housing authority suddenly taking on new exciting initiatives.
“The board has been so focused on survival they haven’t really been thinking about that,” Caldwell said.
On the plus side, the restructuring, which was under way before Caldwell arrived, resulted in a 20-month cushion of revenue. Beyond that, the agency will have to come up with a sustainable funding plan. The good news is, they haven’t yet started to tap those funds, or in Caldwell’s words, the “burn rate” hasn’t started yet.
“We’re holding our own. We talk about where we are every day,” he said.
Don’t look for the housing authority to be adding staff members or expanding programs. In fact, they will be looking for partnerships on social services that complement the agency’s mission — to provide affordable housing.
The condos were not affordable housing. In May last year, prices of those properties left to sell ranged from $239,000 to $460,000.
The Monterey housing authority was into the business of development, Caldwell said, but unlike KCCHA, their properties were priced within reach of their clients.
“We never lost sight of the fact we were building affordable housing,” Caldwell said.
To clarify, this was in response to a question. He wasn’t taking pot shots at previous housing authority leaders. In fact, Caldwell said, he’s looking forward to getting beyond the condo stigma. How will he, the staff and the board do it? They’re going to have to show the community results, he said. Caldwell asserted he’s a great believer in word-of-mouth … and the short attention span of public opinion.
Asked if anything surprised Caldwell about his first month on the job, he said it was “the amount of actual good will that’s out there for the agency. … I expected it to be positive,” he said, “but not as positive as it is. People are really looking for the housing authority to lead the way.”