Category Archives: Housing Authority

Seriously? Public employees don’t have to pay into Social Security?

Brynn writes:

That was my reaction last week when I learned that our state doesn’t require public employees to pay into Social Security if they participate in the Public Employees’ Retirement System.

I wrote about this in Monday’s paper as it relates to the employees of Housing Kitsap, who voted in April to remove themselves from paying Social Security.

It’s a bit convoluted, but in 1955 Washington voluntarily entered into an agreement with the federal government to offer Social Security to public employees who weren’t covered by a state-authorized retirement plan. By 1991 it was mandatory that all public agencies offer either Social Security or a state-authorized retirement plan for employees.

This mandatory requirement meant that if agencies like housing authorities had a state-authorized retirement plan in place for employees and those employees were also paying into Social Security, the state needed documentation that said the agency had voluntarily agreed to pay into Social Security.

The state’s Employment Security Department managed these agreements from 1951 to 2009. When the state’s Department of Retirement Services took them over it realized some public agencies were paying into Social Security erroneously.

Housing Kitsap was one of those agencies. I filed a records request with the state retirement services department to see the files related to the housing agency and why it didn’t vote in 1989 to continue to pay into Social Security. (1989 is when the agency authorized its state-approved retirement plan for employees, called PERS).

Emails and files show the housing board was told in 1993 it needed to allow staff to vote on whether to continue to pay into Social Security, but the board never took action.

A file from April 16, 1993 shows the employment security department sent letters to the housing authority board and began the process of holding a vote, but a hand-written note on the file explains why the vote was never held:

“11-18-93 Rob says board won’t approve.”

Rob, I think is in reference to Rob Joseph, the account supervisor named on the document. The document never says why the board halted the process, but for employees to vote the board had to approve it first. As a result the authority and its employees have paid into Social Security for 24 years when they potentially should not have.

“All of these years that the housing authority was participating in PERS they were at the same time erroneously taking Social Security out of the PERS people’s pay and they should not have been,” said Melanie Piccin, state Social Security coordinator with the Department of Retirement Systems.

Employees finally took the vote in April and voted 34 to 18  to withdraw from Social Security. Now they’re asking the housing board to reconsider its plan to pay down the agency’s debt with the money it would have paid into Social Security on their behalf. Instead they’d like to see the money go into a deferred compensation program.

So what other public employees have the option not to pay into Social Security? According to Piccin, all of the state’s agencies have the voluntary coverage in place, which means these employees pay Social Security. The only state agency that doesn’t pay is the Washington State Patrol, she said.

All school districts and the state’s higher education institutions, like public universities and colleges, pay into Social Security. But the retirement services department is learning many of the state’s smaller political subdivisions like cities and housing authorities are paying into the federal system without an agreement on hand.

Beyond Kitsap’s housing authority Piccin has also contacted the city of Sea-Tac and Port of Seattle (including its firefighters and police) to notify them of the discrepancy.

Is No News Good News?

Brynn Grimley writes:

The big news coming out of yesterday’s Housing Kitsap (formerly Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority) meeting was the agency is looking good financially, compared to this time last year. Read that story here.

Beyond that, everything was cut and dry. Which left me wondering, where was the board discussion about whether the agency should move from Silverdale to Bremerton?

I’m not trying to sound like a broken record, but I’d like to be able to write a story that says the decision was made and the authority is moving to (insert location here).

Executive Director Tony Caldwell did mention the move, but the board had no further comment after his update.


It has been more than 60 days since county commissioners sent a letter to the agency requesting they move out in 60 days. But that letter, besides a mention by Caldwell at the August meeting, has never been discussed by the board. (I should say, the letter has never been publicly discussed by the board in a meeting. I can’t attest to what has been said behind closed doors during an executive session).

As the meeting adjourned, I decided to do my due diligence and ask why the county commissioners had not raised the issue of the move at either of the last two meetings?

Here’s what County Commissioner Josh Brown told me:

“The majority of the board feels there is a possibility of a deal with the city of Bremerton that, at the end of the day, would be the most financially viable option.”

But, the county commissioner’s no. 1 priority remains keeping the agency’s overhead costs down, he said.

OK, but I’m still left wondering what the answer is to the agency’s Shakespearean dilemma: To Move or Not To Move?

In his update during the meeting, Caldwell said he planned to meet with the city of Bremerton later this month. From that meeting he hopes to get a clear direction about the city’s intent for the ground floor office space. Ultimately, does the city want the space or not?

Their response will dictate how the housing authority moves forward.

In the meantime, we wait. Again.

All The News That Didn’t Fit

Brynn Grimley writes:

How to fit the details of an eight-hour board work session into an 18-inch article is, to say the least, a struggle.

Realistically it isn’t possible to get into the in-depth conversations, the different discussions that evolve (or at times devolve) into an end result. In the end, a reporter is left with summarizing, often finding highlights of the session and using those to describe the day.

And more often than not, after sitting through the daylong session, you leave knowing your day — unlike everyone else in the room — is far from over. Deadline looms and the need to get the story written for the web and the next day’s paper is pressing.

The end result? Crunching eight hours of information into two hours of writing.

That was my Tuesday. Uff-Da.

I attended the Housing Kitsap (formerly Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority) all day retreat. (Retreat is such a misnomer because it wasn’t like the board was getting manis and pedis or massages, they were planning for the future).

It’s clear the day’s session — which at times felt more like a group therapy session than anything else — was needed. The agency had Professional Options provide consultation for the day. President and CEO of the firm, Dona Keating, was the facilitator.

Keating laid out an ambitious agenda with the purpose of the day’s meeting stated at the top:

To strengthen board involvement and accountability; refine mission, strategy and vision for KCCHA; identify and achieve additional revenue stream; implement and/or improve operational efficiency.

It’s no secret that the housing authority faced the possibility of dissolution after it became clear it couldn’t pay loans tied to the revitalization efforts of downtown Bremerton. It’s also no secret that the agency got away from its mission for a while.

But what seems to be regularly overlooked by many of the commentators on our stories about the authority is the work that has gone on over the past year to keep the agency afloat. When people criticize the agency, they may not always think about the impact that has on the staff who have worked hard to return the agency to its mission and who have found ways to save on expenditures so that the clients remain a priority.

Regardless of where you stand on whether the county made the right decision when it bailed out the agency with a loan to the tune of $40.5 million, the staff, current administration and housing board in place now are not the same people that lead the agency astray of its mission.

Some say bankrupt the agency and start over. But what does that mean for the people living in the agency’s public housing units? Where do they go if the agency that distributes the federal HUD subsidies goes away? This is what housing authority staff think about.

It’d be a lie to say staff doesn’t get discouraged by disparaging comments left on stories.

As Jennifer Laslovich, director of asset management, explained Tuseday during the session: she believes in the mission of housing low-income families and making affordable housing available to Kitsap area residents. And just like the rest of the staff that has stayed with the authority, she chose to stay with the organization through this difficult time to see the agency succeed.

After hearing from management that agency staff was fearful of the housing authority board, the board determined a priority going forward would be to create unity within the organization. That includes unity between board members, unity between staff, and unity between the board and staff. With that unity will also come trust, which is currently lacking within the organization and among board members.

Housing commissioners also talked about changing the makeup of who sits on the board, however they didn’t get into specifics of how it might change. They talked about the need to keep the housing authority’s best interest at the forefront when making decisions, and the need to be unified after those decisions are made — they shouldn’t go back to their respective elected offices and do something that could undermine the decision made by the housing board.

The last two hours of the retreat centered around the creation of a strategic plan. Executive director Tony Caldwell told the board he would like to see the plan be a hybrid between a goals-based plan and an issues-based plan.

This means the board should ask themselves: five years down the road, where do you as housing commissioners see the agency? They should also identify the issues facing the authority over the next one to three years and create an action plan for solving those issues.

Cognizant of the need to stay on top of the agency’s finances, the board determined financial viability should be the first priority of the plan. The next priority needs to be strengthening the agency’s core mission.

The board wasn’t equipped to get into the nitty-gritty details of what that plan would look like beyond setting the priorities, but Keating was adamant that they get the foundation in place now. The plan should be viewed as a working document that is formed with the addition of staff recommendations and board vetting in the coming months.

The board meets again Sept. 7, and it will be interesting to see the dynamics following Tuesday’s meeting.

County Commissioners Put Proverbial Foot Down

Brynn Grimley writes:

I spent a lot of time last week calling Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority commissioners and speaking with executive director Tony Caldwell and finance director Judy Henry for the story I wrote on the housing authority’s budget that ran in Sunday’s paper. (It can be read here).

While I was asking questions about the budget, most of the people I talked to weighed in on the on-going debate about where KCCHA should be located. Of course these comments came after my story ran in Wednesday’s paper explaining the move was still postponed and all discussions were had in a closed meeting, making it hard to know what exactly is going on. (That story can be read here).

There wasn’t a lot of new information that was shared with me in those “after the article” conversations, just everyone making a case for why they felt the way they do about the move. As I continued to ask: “At what point do you say ‘enough is enough?'” — it became clear I wasn’t the only one wondering when patience would run out.

At an afternoon meeting Monday, the Kitsap County Commissioners put their feet down. They passed a resolution stating they want KCCHA out of the Bayshore Drive building within 60 days. They feel they’ll have better luck selling the building, and a second property near by, if KCCHA is gone.

Commissioners also cited the goals of a work plan created last year between the county and KCCHA staff and the agency’s board that details ways in which KCCHA would strive to consolidate its services and reduce its overhead costs. The county commissioners believe paying $19,000 a month (and now another roughly $2,000 a month to the Port of Bremerton) for unused office space in Bremerton is not a good use of the agency’s resources.

But from where they stand on the KCCHA board, the three county commissioners are in the minority. The four other KCCHA commissioners — board chairman Lary Coppola (Port Orchard mayor), Becky Erickson (Poulsbo mayor), Debbi Lester (Bainbridge Island councilwoman), and Troy Erickson (resident representative) — so far appear to support finding an alternative location for KCCHA to reside.

I can’t tell you why they support it, because I haven’t heard them publicly discuss their reasons. But I am sure they in part want to support KCCHA executive director Tony Caldwell and KCCHA staff, who maintain that moving to the Norm Dicks Government Center does not make smart fiscal sense for the agency.

KCCHA is now left with a divided board. Three commissioners (who have now decided to look at this from the county’s financial perspective) believe the move will help the agency shore up its financials; four commissioners (not tied to county finances) appear to believe it doesn’t make financial sense to move the agency to Bremerton. But at this point this can only be assumed by their lack of action, because they aren’t publicly talking about the move in their meetings.

County commissioners, who until they have the majority can only express frustration at the KCCHA board meetings, have now decided to flex a different muscle. It’s called the: “We took on $40.5 million in debt to bail you out” muscle.

It will be interesting to see if the county can legally “evict” KCCHA from the Silverdale building, even though KCCHA still technically owns it (it was one of the buildings pledged to the county to help repay the debt).

It should also be noted that the KCCHA commissioners agreed in May that if an alternative had not surfaced by the board’s July 6 meeting, everyone would support the move to Bremerton.

Well July 6 has come and gone and KCCHA hasn’t started to pack any boxes to my knowledge. If an alternative was found, no one seems to have told the county commissioners, because they made it clear on Monday they’re tired of waiting.

A Potential Twist in Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority Move?

Brynn Grimley writes:

OK it’s not really a twist per se, but hey I have to do something to get readers, right?

At today’s Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority board meeting, executive director Tony Caldwell introduced some new information to the debate about moving the authority from Silverdale to the Norm Dicks Government Center in Bremerton. But there wasn’t much of a discussion because the three county commissioners were not at the meeting. (They’ve been the most vocal about seeing the agency move to Bremerton).

Here’s what Caldwell reported:

He met with the agency’s bond counsel from Foster Pepper to discuss the agency’s options for finding a tenant for the space (other than the housing authority). The representative told Caldwell two things.

One: Under the terms of the bonds used to pay for the housing authority’s portion of the building, the authority could sell the space to another entity (private or public) as long as the proceeds were applied to repaying the bonds.

Previously the board questioned if the authority’s hands were tied because they didn’t know if the bonds restricted what percentage of the building could be occupied by private business. This new information gives the authority more opportunity to find a potential buyer for the space because it can look outside of the public sector.

Two: The authority can lease the space to any entity — public or private — using a rolling lease system. Meaning every 50 days the agency could renew its lease with a tenant, which gives more flexibility to who can fill the space. But if the authority wanted to enter into a long-term lease, like a one-year lease, it would only be able to do that with a public agency.

Again the authority thought it could only lease the space to local government entities, and hasn’t looked outside of the public sector for potential tenants because it thought its hands were tied. Now it knows it can enter into a month-to-month lease with either a public or private business/agency.

Also of note, but not discussed at the meeting, was this from Caldwell’s executive report:

He has been contacted by someone who is interested in buying the authority’s office space along Bayshore Drive in Silverdale. The person would like to buy the building and lease it back to the authority.

Because there wasn’t a quorum at the meeting, and because the county commissioners were not in attendance, there really wasn’t much of a conversation about this new information. KCCHA chairman Lary Coppola and board member Becky Erickson both expressed interest in the details that the authority could now appeal to the private sector. But Caldwell wasn’t given any direction for how to move forward. (Although in his executive report he asks for board permission to “make inquiries about potential interest” based on the new information.)

At the board’s May meeting Caldwell was given until July to find an alternative to moving to Bremerton. He has since explored other options and identified several locations throughout the county that are vacant and would support all of the agency’s departments in one location. There would still be the need for tenant improvements no matter where the agency relocates, but Caldwell said he believes the changes would not be cost prohibitive.

We’ll see what the July meeting brings.

(In May I reported the board gave Caldwell until July to find an alternative to the move. Use the links in the story to read previous articles regarding this topic. The May story can be found here.)

Heads Up: On The Agenda

Brynn Grimley writes:

For those who have been living under a rock, in case you didn’t know today’s a holiday. Which means that all government offices are closed. That means for this blog there’s one less meeting day to have to review. (Woo Hoo!)

Without further adieu, here’s the agendas for the week:

Kitsap County Board of Commissioners (meet at 619 Division Street)

Meeting dates:

Wednesday, June 2: 8:30 a.m. The board’s weekly work study session will include a 30 minute presentation by Parks and Recreation Director Jim Dumwiddie about parks grants, County Fire Marshal David Lynam will follow with a 45 minute presentation about special events. The board will take a 10 minute break then reconvene for an hour presentation by DCD Director Larry Keeton about large onsite sewage systems. The board will then recess into executive session for 30 minutes to discuss existing litigation and then recess again into executive session from 11:30 to noon to discuss real estate matters. They’ll adjourn following the executive sessions.

City of Bremerton (meet at 345 6th Street, Norm Dicks Government Center)

Meeting dates:

Wednesday, June 2: 5 p.m. The City Council will have a briefing until 5:30 p.m. where they’ll convene their regular session in council chambers. The following items are on the general business agenda: approve parking enforcement services contract with Diamond Parking; award contract to Stan Palmer Construction for construction of the Lions Park Renovation project. The public hearing portion of the meeting includes: review of a Local Solicitation 2010 Justice Assistance grant application; public hearing on an ordinance to amend Title 18 titled “City Fire Code” of the Bremerton Municipal Code and to adopt the 2009 changes to the International Fire Code; hearing an ordinance to amend Chapter 17.04 titled “State Building Code Adoption” of Bremerton Municipal Code, to repeal the adoption of the Washington State Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality Code and to adopt the 2009 editions of the various building codes. Council committee reports will follow and then adjournment. (A story on the Diamond Parking contract is here).

City of Port Orchard (meet at 219 Prospect Street)

No meeting this week.

City of Poulsbo (meet at 19050 Jensen Way)

Meeting dates:

Wednesday, June 3: 7 p.m. The council will begin the meeting with an update from Mayor Becky Erickson. There are only two items on the business agenda. They include: reviewing a contract amendment with ICF Jones & Stokes for a Dogfish Creek study; and a contract amendment with Krazan for the Fjord Slide Repair project.

Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority (meet at 345 6th Street, Norm Dicks Government Center)

Meeting dates:

Tuesday, June 2: 1 p.m. I either didn’t receive the agenda for KCCHA before the long weekend or I accidentally deleted it. The agenda is not listed on the website (or if it is I can’t find it), but here’s what the organization submitted for the civic calendar listing for its meeting: The Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority commissioners will meet at the Norm Dicks Government Center, 345 Sixth St. This public meeting will include an executive session (closed to the public) to discuss real estate and potential litigation.

Kitsap Reginoal Coordinating Council (meet at 345 6th Street, Norm Dicks Government Center)

Meeting dates:

Tuesday, June 2: 8 a.m. The meeting kicks off with a study session to review countywide planning policy revisions between council representatives and Health District staff. The regular meeting will call to order at 9 a.m. and will cover a public hearing on funding recommendations on the homeless housing grant program; a report on a ferry service meeting held recently with Kitsap legislators and citizens; a work program report which includes a report from the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance/KCCDC; report by the non-motorized ad hoc committee; a report on the progress of the revenue sharing/UGA program partnership Kitsap County staff is doing in tandem with city of Port Orchard staff; a report on the city and county’s roles; and a report on the broadband ARRA grand application. Adjournment is slated for 11 a.m. (A story about the revenue sharing/UGA program is here.)

Port of Illahee (meet at the CKFR Station 41 off Old Military Road)

Tuesday, June 2: 5:30 p.m. The Port of Illahee is holding an informational meeting for district taxpayers to learn about the Illahee Plan, the port’s opportunity to buy land from the Timbers Edge development, a petition for the community to sign if they support the purchase and how these issues could effect the community. Commissioners want to hear from all community members in the port district. (The story about the petition and the option to buy the Timbers Edge property is here.)

That’s all I got for the short week. Hope everyone is enjoying their day off today.

Waiting Game Continues on KCCHA Move

Brynn Grimley writes:

Gardner was out yesterday and I’m not sure if he’s feeling better today or not since I’m in a county commissioner work study this morning (he’s probably still sleeping, lucky guy!) so it looks like, for now, you’re all stuck with me. Sorry.

As you might remember, yesterday I posted a blog entry about the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority and its potentially impending move. But, if you’ve already read today’s paper (or the Web site), you know a decision wasn’t reached.

In fact, I anticipated the meeting would include a decent discussion about the matter, but none of that happened. Well, that’s not exactly true, there was a discussion but it was held in executive session, so no one but the board of directors and authority staff were privy to what was said.

This was a contrast from last month’s meeting, when County commissioner Steve Bauer made it clear he was frustrated because it seemed the agency was resisting the move from Silverdale to Bremerton.

Executive sessions are held to protect sensitive information from being known to the public (usually its related to personnel performance, real estate dealings or potential litigation). After the meeting I chatted with executive director Tony Caldwell, board chairman Lary Coppola and called Bauer. None gave much of a hint as to what the discussion centered around. (Bauer said he wasn’t trying to be “cute” when I pressed him. He said when he could discuss the issues publicly he would. We’ll wait and see). They did say there is a tenant potentially interested in moving into the authority’s space in the Norm Dicks Government Center, and that was part of the discussion in the executive session. That’s the most I could get out of them.

If the decision comes down from the board for the move to happen, Caldwell and his staff are ready. They’ve already gone through the first floor office area declaring certain office furniture “surplus” that they won’t need.

In the limited discussion they had about the move during the public meeting, Caldwell said he and staff have “sat down and discussed how we can make this building work for us.”

“We continue to hold down on our expenses as much as we can,” he said about the overall status of the authority.

The board could reconvene in a special meeting as early as this week to make a decision on the move, or it could be next week, or the following. Not sure, but when I know, I’ll let you know.

Will the Housing Authority Move?

Brynn Grimley writes:

As I was compiling the weekly “Heads Up” post that we’re now running each week on the Caucus, I was reminded that the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority will be meeting Tuesday afternoon. (Or, I guess I should say this afternoon, since I’m scheduling this post to come out Tuesday morning).

Recently hired executive director Tony Caldwell is expected tell the housing authority board whether he found an alternative to the proposal that the authority move into the vacant space it currently owns inside the Norm Dicks Government Center. The story I wrote about this resulted in a mix of opinions about whether the agency should relocate to Bremerton (where it doesn’t have much of a presence by way of programs or housing) or find a home elsewhere in the county.

To refresh your memories, the story is here. In response to the article and the many comments, Caldwell wrote a “My Turn” for the paper. That can be read here.

Caldwell came to speak with the Kitsap Sun’s editorial board a week ago and in that conversation he said the authority will do whatever the board directs it to do. However, he, as the new executive director, wanted the chance to see if he could find an alternative that made the most sense for the authority and staff (and the most sense financially). He reiterated that the authority has no presence in downtown Bremerton (remember Kitsap County owns the Harborside condos now, not the authority).

Regardless of what is decided, the housing authority will have to move because the county is trying to sell the Bayshore Drive building. I’ll be at the meeting to see where they land.

Ed Board Chats with New Housing Authority Director

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.”

Tacoma-based Housing Authority Under Scrutiny

The (Tacoma) News Tribune is reporting that the FBI is investigating the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association regarding allegations of misspent public funds. From the story:

For months, questions have lingered about whether any law enforcement agency was – or would be – investigating the Tacoma-based housing nonprofit’s spending of a $4 million state budget appropriation and $400,000 federal loan. The nonprofit obtained the money in recent years to help it build a mixed-use business and housing center on Tacoma’s Hilltop, but today the site remains vacant.