It’s everyone’s duty to help protect affordable housing programs

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I heard some troubling news the other day that will have a detrimental impact on our community. First, I want to share some wonderful things about an organization in our community that accomplishes wonderful feats every day.

Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) is our largest affordable housing developer in the region. Their core mission is to house people in need by building, buying and rebuilding housing that they then turn around and rent. THA helps to finance and develop housing for nonprofit organizations that share its mission. Additionally, they help households pay rent on housing they lease from private landlords.

THA does all of this very well.

They are more than a developer. THA serves about 11,500 of Tacoma’s more than 200,000 residents, providing solutions to people in need. They want people to succeed, “not just as tenants, but…as parents, students, wage earners and builders of assets.” They have programs to help people build their assets, receive education and prosper. By leveraging private funds, THA was able to provide $36 million in construction funds to renovate nine buildings and provided more than $1 million to help with housing programs in unincorporated Pierce County. THA and Tacoma Public Schools also formed a partnership that provides homeless families with elementary school age students housing assistance. More than 119 children have been served by this program and often outperform their peers in reading benchmarks. THA is a wonderful illustration of, “it takes a village.”

Here is the troubling news: 83 percent of rental housing in Tacoma is not affordable to very low-income households. According to federal standards, housing is considered to be affordable when the cost of housing plus utilities equals no more than 30 percent of household (gross) income. Rents are up 8 percent in the last year and for the low income, are reaching 50 percent of the household income. To afford a two-bedroom apartment in Tacoma requires a full-time wage of $21 per hour. There is a waiting list of thousands to receive housing assistance in the form of vouchers from THA.

THA’s funding has not increased in a number of years. Tacoma’s rising rental market is costing THA $600,000 more each year to serve the same number of households and they are still only able to serve a small fraction of the 20,000 needy Tacoma households that need assistance. Although employment numbers are increasing, many of the jobs are minimum or low-wage jobs. THA is trying to make some tough choices in how to respond to all of the new challenges they are facing. They can reduce the value of the rent subsidy further, they can redirect vouchers to higher-income households who cost less to serve, they can redirect money from other programs to pay for rental assistance (reduce development projects, supportive services, and education efforts), or they can maintain rental subsidy levels but serve fewer households. All of these options will result in harm to those in need and undoubtedly will result in more families moving into homelessness.

There are a number of federal programs that provide services for our local affordable housing efforts. Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) programs specifically benefit and support local housing authorities. These programs include rental assistance, self-sufficiency for individuals and families, supportive services for residential living and job readiness and job training.

The HOME program preserves affordable rental housing for lease by low-income tenant households and creates affordable homeownership opportunities.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program funds minor home repair services that may be required for the health and safety of the low-income homeowners. CDBG provides for the acquisition of housing for the special needs population.

Pierce County’s Housing and Homelessness Program manager has often said, “We don’t have a homeless problem…we have a housing problem.” I couldn’t agree more. The president recently proposed to cut the above programs I have highlighted. Fortunately, Congress has not let that happen, but it does tell us that what happens in Washington, D.C. can have a serious effect on what we are able to do locally. It is getting to be harder and harder for many of us to be able to afford housing. We all need to contact our representatives in D.C. and tell them to continue to protect these programs.

Connie Ladenburg is a member of the Pierce County Council. Read her blog at https://blog.co.pierce.wa.us/connieladenburg.

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