UPDATED: Florea resigns from Housing Resources Board

Disagreements within Bainbridge Island’s lead affordable housing organization spurred its executive director’s resignation on Wednesday.

Carl Florea, whose two years at the helm of the Housing Resources Board was marked by some of the organization’s most ambitious projects, said he and HRB’s board were at odds over financial and management matters.

“It’s important for an executive director to feel that we’re all rowing in the same direction together,” Florea said. “I didn’t feel like that.”

Florea’s last day is Oct. 31, but he will continue working with HRB as a consultant until Florea’s replacement is hired and trained.

HRB board chair Del Miller commended Florea’s work but noted key disagreements on financial decisions.

“The board felt we needed to be pretty conservative in how we borrow and spend money,” Miller said.

Under Florea’s leadership, HRB mounted an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful effort to purchase and preserve Winslow’s 71-unit Quay Bainbridge apartment complex as affordable housing.

Florea also led HRB as it began work on the 48-unit Ferncliff project, the largest construction initiative in the organization’s 20-year history.

Funding for the project, which is planned for a 6.4-acre property near the Ferncliff Avenue-Wing Point Way intersection, was a chief source of tension between Florea and the board. As proposed, HRB would hold the land in trust but sell the units to qualified buyers, thereby maintaining affordability in perpetuity. Florea proposed drawing funding from a variety of sources, including homebuyer mortgages, grants and loans from HRB’s general fund.

The board wanted the project to be self-sustaining and not draw from funding sources used to maintain the nearly 100 units HRB already administers.

“Ferncliff is a new and exciting venture but we didn’t want it to put the things HRBs been doing for years at risk,” Miller said. “Carl was a little less conservative than the board on this issue.”

Florea, who was hired for his knowledge in creating land trusts, said the board was unwilling to take on the financial risks he believed were necessary to develop the project.

“To be a developer, whether for profit or nonprofit, you have to take risks,” he said. “I felt it was relatively risk free and I was trying to move forward with the project, but one hand was tied behind my back.”

The board also exerted more oversight than Florea would have liked.

“(Florea) thought the board had more oversight than they needed to (have), but that’s our fiduciary duty,” Miller said. “That was a source of tension.”

Miller praised Florea for developing improved accounting and data-reporting systems, and for working well with public officials.

HRB co-founder Ed Kushner said Florea’s “winning personality and enthusiasm” galvanized the organization and drew greater attention to the island’s affordable housing needs.

“I wish he wasn’t leaving,” Kushner said. “He had an enormous capacity for conveying the message that if you want a real town, you need all kinds of people in it.”

Florea came to HRB in March 2007 after leading a social service and affordable housing organization in Leavenworth. He used the community land trust model to develop two 10-unit neighborhoods in the Eastern Washington town.

“I built that organization from nothing,” he said. “It was because of that experience that (HRB) brought me over and hired me. There was a desire here to grow, expand and get more things on the ground.”

The Ferncliff project’s development under the community land trust model connected HRB to cutting-edge affordable housing groups that have begun sharing advice and information, Kushner said.

“For virtually all its existence, HRB has been an ordinary nonprofit working on affordable housing,” he said. “Now it’s a community land trust. That plugs HRB into a national network, and that means a lot.”

But, according to Florea, easing HRB into its new role “has been a difficult transition.”

The aspirations for the Ferncliff project have been downgraded slightly in recent months. HRB has scaled back the number of units it hopes to build in the initial 2010 construction phase and has redesigned aspects of the project to cut costs.

Florea said he’s still a strong supporter of HRB’s efforts and believes the Ferncliff project will come to fruition.

A different personality in the director’s position may be the change HRB needs to push forward the projects he initiated, Florea said.

“Maybe I’m too out there, a little too out of the box and wanting to push the envelope too much,” he said. “Ferncliff will go forward. They’ll figure it out, and maybe find someone who’s a better fit.”

Florea and his wife, a nurse, plan to remain on the island.

HRB Associate Director Kathy Cooper will serve as interim executive director until Florea’s replacement is hired. Cooper began working at HRB in January 2006 and was named associate director at the beginning of this year.

7 thoughts on “UPDATED: Florea resigns from Housing Resources Board

  1. I remember oh so well Carl F. in full glory at the COBI Council telling us why we just had to have the Quay. Carl F’s stock hit bottom from then on.

    Adios CF.

  2. yeah James, its a shame they didn’t tear the Quay down, so they could have built over priced, over crowded townhouses that could later be auctioned off for pennies on the dollar. yeah, too bad, there sure would have been some good money to lose there.

  3. Only a Mom would love CF’s attempt to buy the Quay. What an ill-conceived boondoggle. Ey Mom. And no it isn’t unpleasant to desire to see COBI not invest in the Quay.

    May CF find greener pastures and communities that aren’t broke

  4. The “funky” units are two modules designed by California architect Michelle Kaufmann, intended to be the basis for 60-unit market-rate development by Unico Properties in Seattle. They are very well designed and look great inside. Any “funkiness” is the result of their not being finished, I think. The failure of the Quay deal was unfortunate but it wasn’t Carl’s fault. It was a long shot from the start and Carl deserves credit for working so hard on it. The island really needs affordable rental housing – lots of it – and the Quay looked like an opportunity, albeit a challenging one. I hope the new Council, whoever is on it, will rethink the city’s approach to affordable housing.

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