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I’ve worked in affordable housing for over 35 years. Fresh out of college, I was hired to help run a Section 8 rental assistance program in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I knew little about the program but found out quickly what a precious and scarce resource Section 8 rent subsidies are for those struggling to afford a decent place to live.   

From the very beginning of my work experience, I found myself connecting the words “waiting list” to “Section 8”.  A phrase I learned quickly, and sadly have repeated thousands of times since, is this:  “I’m so sorry -- the waiting list for Section 8 is currently closed.” 

In the intervening years since, I’ve had to share these sad words over and over again to senior citizens, disabled veterans, single parents with small children, people who suddenly found themselves without the job they thought was secure, to those who have been debilitated by sudden illness.

The Section 8 program administered by BHA is funded by HUD, using dollars appropriated by Congress.  The money given to BHA currently supports about 1,450 households with rental assistance.  The number of households in Bremerton who would qualify for the Section 8 program, if full funding were available is, about 18,000.   Yes, 18,000.  That’s over 10 times more than we currently have funds to assist.

We're opening the Section 8 Wait List for applications.  Waitlist flyer2018What this really means is we are holding a lottery for the opportunity to be placed on the Section 8 Wait List.  A total of 300 names will be randomly pulled for placement on the list.  If recent history can be used to predict how many applications will be electronically received, the total number will be over 3,000.  Yes, 3,000+ applications for 300 slots on the wait list.  That’s less than a one-in-ten chance of being selected.  Once on the list, those fortunate 300 will wait anywhere from one month to 2 years to receive a Section 8 voucher.  For those not selected, they’ll have to wait another 1-2 years to try again.  Sadly, the scarcity of Section 8 rental assistance is the same in virtually every community in America.

So what do we do?  How can BHA meet its vision of everyone having the opportunity for a home that is safe and affordable?  First, we must maximize the limited funds we have for the Section 8 program.  We do this by spending 100% of the money given to us by HUD and Congress.  Second, we ensure that those receiving rental assistance are fully qualified and strictly adhere to program rules.  Third, we cultivate relationships with local rental property owners so Section 8 participants can find appropriate housing once they receive assistance.  Finally, we look for creative ways to expand funding for rental assistance programs.  In this latter regard, BHA is earnestly working with the City of Bremerton to create a local rental assistance program using funds allocated from the city’s general fund.  We appreciate the city’s support and look forward to working with them on a creative and cooperative program to address housing instability in Bremerton.

Those seeking rental assistance shouldn’t be told, “… sorry, the Section 8 wait list is closed …” in their time of economic crisis.

Click here for BHA Vision, Mission and State of Values.

Kurt2On the evening of May 4, 2007, smoker’s carelessness resulted in a fire at The Firs apartments, a building owned and managed by BHA in the former Westpark neighborhood (now Bay Vista).  The quick actions of Resident Manager, Paul Wright prevented a tragedy.  An apartment resident was smoking in his living room, while on oxygen, and fell asleep.  Flames from his lit cigarette ignited both the oxygen tank and his clothing.  Hearing cries for help and responding to the building’s fire alarm, Mr. Wright dragged the resident out of his apartment into the hallway, closed the door to provide separation from the fire, and extinguished flames on the resident.  Although seriously burned, the resident survived the fire.  Miraculously, there were no other injuries resulting from the inferno.  Mr. Wright was a hero that night.

When I arrived on the scene about 45 minutes later, Bremerton Fire Department personnel were mopping up.  Residents had been evacuated and were receiving services at the nearby Westpark Community Center.   Damage was primarily limited to the apartment where the fire had started.  It was a total loss and would need to be completely renovated.  Thankfully, the rest of the building received only minor water damage from the firefighter’s hoses.

The FirsAs residents were allowed back into the building a few hours later that night, I noticed a small group huddled together in the darkness, smoking, waiting their turn to go inside.  I told them the fire had been started by a careless smoker and the Housing Authority had been considering in the last several months a policy that would ban smoking at all BHA residential properties.  I asked this small group, all smokers, what they thought about such a policy.  Without exception, each said they would support a smoking ban, they didn’t want to be smokers, and they hated the smell of cigarette smoke in the building.

The rest is history.  Within a few months, the BHA board of commissioners passed a resolution declaring all BHA properties to be smoke-free.  As Westpark made way for replacement affordable housing as part of the creation of Bay Vista, each new property – Bay Vista Commons, The Summit, Bay Vista South, and Bay Vista West, were designated non-smoking.  BHA acquired additional housing in other parts of Bremerton – Winfield, Shadow Creek, Wright Court, Charter House, and Casa del Sol, and all were declared smoke-free.  BHA’s existing inventory – The Firs, Tara Heights, and Tamarack, all became smoke-free.  With the encouragement of the Bremerton Fire Department, a $300,000 fire sprinkler system was installed at The Firs for additional fire safety.  All new buildings were constructed with fire suppression systems as standard features. 

No SmokingI share this story because a decade later, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has declared all public housing in the U.S. must be smoke-free by August 1, 2018.  There are many public housing authorities that have fought this smoke-free requirement.  At BHA, we value the health and safety of our residents.  Becoming smoke-free over 10 years ago was the right thing to do.  We had no resistance from residents.  We make referrals to our partner agency, the Kitsap Public Health District, for connection to smoking cessation programs and services.  The wellness and safety of our residents is paramount to us.

Click here for BHA Vision, Mission and State of Values.

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How a person pays their rent shouldn’t limit where they get to live.  Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law on March 15, 2018, a bill that ends discrimination based on whether someone receives Section 8 rental assistance.  Over the last several years  I’ve gone to Olympia, along with Jim Adrian, a landlord who participates in BHA’s Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance program, and provided testimony to legislators regarding passage of this bill.  

Housing Authorities provide rental assistance to single individuals, families with children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, veterans, those who work and struggle to make ends meet, and people trying to build for the future while at the same time provide a safe and stable place to call home.  Unfortunately, throughout Washington, these same people face discrimination in where they can live simply because of the means by which they pay their rent.

It’s conceivable that a person without rental assistance can faithfully pay a full rent each month to their landlord, often in excess of 50% of their monthly income, for months and years, and then be told they have to move by the same landlord when their name finally reaches the top of the Section 8 wait list and they receive a voucher.  In the past, an owner’s decision to not accept a Section 8 rental voucher forces a family to move through no fault of their own, even though the owner would still get their full contract rent and the family’s portion would very likely go down.

Prior to 2018, a number of communities in Washington, as well as cities throughout the U.S., passed legislation that ended discrimination against Section 8 participants. Oregon passed similar protections which went into effect in 2014.  It has opened thousands of doors to renters in Oregon who had previously struggled to find landlords who would rent to them.  By all accounts, landlords in Oregon and other areas with these protections have suffered no adverse effects of tenant protection based on source of income.

Bremerton Housing Authority prides itself on positive relationships with local rental property owners. Our processes do not create any undue financial or time burdens on landlords. Individuals and families, trying to create a safe and stable place to live and thrive, should not be limited in where they can live by how they pay their rent. 

Click here for BHA Vision, Mission and Statement of Values

Kurt mayor office
Feedback is a gift.  We’d all like to get positive feedback and comments on the work we do.  But that doesn’t make us grow and improve.  A wise man once observed, “All sunshine makes a desert.” 

In our efforts to ensure the work we do in administering the Section 8 Housing Choice Program is of the highest quality, we desire to get feedback from property owners and managers about their experience partnering with Bremerton Housing Authority. 

Here’s the link to a survey we’ve recently developed.  It only takes a few minutes to complete.

https://bremertonhousing.org/index.php/439-landlord-survey

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is the largest program administered locally by BHA.  In addition to the 371 vouchers managed by BHA for Housing Kitsap, we have 1,882 of our own vouchers, for a total of 2,253 rental subsidies.  This number is far greater than that 573 apartments we own and manage in Bremerton.

Housing Choice Vouchers are used to provide affordable rental housing for qualified individuals and families throughout Kitsap and Mason counties.  For the HCV program to be successful, we partner with rental properties owners.  The private landlord provides the rental unit and BHA uses federal HCV funds to pay a subsidy to ensure qualified renters pay a rent that is affordable to them.  These rental properties vary in size from single family homes to apartments in complexes of over 200 units. 

Each month BHA staff process eligibility documents for hundreds of participating households, determine rent portions, calculate subsidies, inspect properties for health and safety, adjust contract rents, and ensure owners get their rent subsidy by the 1st of each month.  Our goal is to have each of these tasks done efficiently, accurately, and timely.

Rental markets ebb and flow based on economic conditions.  Current shortages of rental housing have caused rents to rise dramatically and vacancies to drop to historic lows.  Through good times and bad, BHA wants local landlords to partner with us because it makes solid business sense, gives them a return on their property investment, and provides a critical need for low income households to have a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home.

We don’t have opportunities enough to thank our landlord partners.  We are grateful for property owners and managers who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program.  For those who are currently partnering with us, we sincerely seek your feedback on how we’re doing and how we can improve.

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Bremerton is in a housing crisis. Rents have increased over 30% in the last two years and show no signs of slowing down. These same conditions exist throughout Kitsap County, the Seattle metro area, most parts of Washington State and the rest of the country.  In fact, there isn’t a single state in the U.S. where someone working a full-time minimum wage job could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

The average rent in Kitsap County is now $1,195 per month. The hourly wage necessary to afford an apartment in our area, $19.98, is nearly double the current minimum wage of $11.00 per hour. Rental housing supply is down, demand is up, and those with the lowest financial resources are being squeezed out to the point of homelessness.

Despite this grim reality, we are proud of our accomplishments at Bremerton Housing Authority in addressing the critical shelter needs of the most vulnerable in our community. Since BHA began the redevelopment of Westpark in 2007, there has been a 60% increase in the number of affordable housing units in Bremerton generated by this massive and innovative project.

This remarkable increase includes: 1.) New Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers allocated by HUD to assist with relocation (and which became a permanent addition to BHA's inventory of vouchers); 2.) Replacement affordable rental housing built in Bay Vista (the former Westpark site) including Bay Vista Commons, Bay Vista West, The Summit, Bay Vista South, and The Pearl on Oyster Bay; 3.) Owner-occupied single-family homes built in Bay Vista for lower income homeowners (including 6 homes developed by Habitat for Humanity); and 4.) Acquisition and renovation of multiple rental properties (Winfield, Shadow Creek, Charter House, Wright Court, and Casa Del Sol) in other parts of Bremerton that have been added to BHA's inventory of permanent affordable rental housing for lower-income households. We anticipate acquiring/developing more affordable housing in the near future.

Westpark Bay Vista Redevelopment Net Housing Loss Gain Since 2007Sadly, though, our demonstrated success in increasing the supply of affordable housing in Bremerton has not kept pace with the tremendous growing demand. Wages have remained stagnant and newly-built market-rate rental housing in the area remains out of reach for many. Compounding this situation has been serious reductions in federal funding over the last decade for our core programs, Section 8 and Public Housing. We can no longer look to the federal government for support in meeting local housing needs.

At BHA, we take seriously our role of being the primary provider of affordable rental housing in this community. We appreciate the significant support we have received as we continue to take on the challenge of increasing supply. I recognize we will likely always fall short of filling every need. The fact is, whether its shelter for the chronically homeless, veterans, persons with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, the elderly, and others in dire need, we simply don't have the resources to keep up with the demand. Nevertheless, at BHA we do the best we can, always looking for new partnerships, creative solutions, additional sources of funds, and other means to increase supply. Building on past successes, we resolutely forge forward to meet the great challenges in front of us.

BHA envisions a future where everyone has the opportunity for a home that is safe and affordable; people are treated with respect regardless of their income level or background; and a person's income level cannot be identified by the neighborhood they live.

Click here for BHA Vision, Mission and Statement of Values
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Bremerton Housing Authority
600 Park Avenue
Bremerton, WA  98337

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