Two resign from city affordable housing group

Frustrated by a lack of funding and support from the city, two members of the Housing Trust Fund Committee resigned Wednesday.

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Two members of the city’s Housing Trust Fund Committee, including its chairman, resigned Wednesday in protest of what they call a lack of action on affordable housing initiatives.

“We’re a housing trust fund with no funds,” said committee member and housing industry consultant Joseph Honick. “The commitment from the city has disappeared.”

Honick joined committee chairman John de Chadenedes in announcing their resignations at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.

De Chadenedes, who serves as the coordinator of the King County Housing Finance Program, told the council that the 2008 budget “abandoned” affordable housing initiatives by failing to put dollars toward new preservation and building projects. The lack of funding makes his committee a “purely symbolic” entity.

By order of the mayor’s office, the city’s affordable housing planning staff declined to comment on the resignations and on the activities of the HTF committee. Mayor Darlene Kordonowy did not return calls for comment.

Councilman Bill Knobloch said he was “puzzled” by the resignations.

“I can safely say the City Council has affordable housing right at the top of its list of priorities,” he said.

Lists don’t build houses, Honick said.

“(The council) may really want it, but they’re not doing anything about it,” he said. “No matter what they say, action is better than concern.”

The city had earmarked $1.5 million to help a coalition of affordable housing groups purchase the 71-unit Quay Bainbridge apartment complex in downtown Winslow. But the city backed out when the property’s value was appraised at far less than its asking price. The city’s withdrawal of support led to the deal’s collapse.

The $1.5 million was not redirected to other affordable housing projects. Instead, it will likely help offset an expected $2.5 million city budget shortfall.

According to city Finance Director Elray Konkel, about $243,000 remains in the ’08 budget for affordable housing, but much of the money is promised to outside organizations, such as the Housing Resources Board.

The HTF was established in 1999 with a simple mandate: funnel public and private money to affordable housing projects.

Honick said the HTF’s goals matched his.

“It’s appalling that the people who serve this community – the police, teachers, City Hall staff – can’t afford to live in this city,” he said.

With median home prices well above $600,000, most city workers and many middle-income professionals can’t afford to live on the island.

Honick wanted to develop an investment program that would use money from local companies to buy or build workforce housing. But his ideas failed to gain traction in City Hall.

“I’m a business man and my business is moving things forward,” he said. “I really felt like I could make progress. I didn’t want to quit the committee, but I feel like we’re going nowhere.”

Mired by budget problems and ineffectual affordable housing policies and programs, the city, Honick said, is not the best vehicle for his ideas and professional know-how. He hopes local businesses, nonprofits and other non-government groups will pickup the city’s slack.

“There’s a lot of expression of a ‘social conscience’ (on Bainbridge),” he said.
“We talk like we have one. Let’s show that we actually do.”