Council, mayor clash over affordable housing

Scales says there’s no progress, while Kordonowy cites poor communication.

When it comes to affordable housing, both Mayor Darlene Kordonowy and City Councilman Bob Scales say their hearts are in the right place.

The difference is in how those hearts beat.

Scales wants to quicken the pulse – ramping up efforts to develop hundreds of new low-cost living units in a short time. Kordonowy prefers a slower, more careful rate that makes use of the various affordable housing groups already working toward a more diverse island population.

The two locked horns at a recent city Land Use Committee meeting after the mayor froze one of the council’s key affordable housing initiatives and, despite the committee’s insistence, had not yet removed herself from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund board, where Scales says Kordonowy’s interests are conflicted.

Kordonowy denies Scales’ charges, saying unclear communication from the council and a dearth of city staff are contributing to a stalled work on affordable housing.

“I’m frustrated because I want to see results,” said Scales, speaking of the general effort to create housing on Bainbridge for lower- and middle-income people. “We talk a lot about this, but we have little to show for it except studies that show us that it’s a problem.”

Scales wants a new affordable housing manager on duty as soon as possible, new membership administering the trust fund and possibly the elimination of the city’s Community Housing Coalition unless it can produce more concrete results.

The island has seen the development of less a dozen new affordable units in the last four years, according to Scales.

That rate is well off the pace of increasingly expensive housing on Bainbridge, Scales said, driving the middle class off-island and preventing many teachers, police officers and city workers from moving here.

Scales led efforts in November to earmark $1.5 million in city funds for affordable housing development projects. The funding boost greatly expanded the purse of the housing trust fund, which typically doles out small, four-figure grants.

He also led efforts to create an affordable housing project developer. The new $100,000 per year position, which is not yet filled, was initially charged with laying the groundwork for 500 new affordable units within 18 months.

Scales now admits that goal was overly ambitious. He, along with the rest of the council, now supports a more open-ended, “as-soon-as-possible” directive.

But the long-delayed process of hiring the new project developer, and other affordable housing efforts, hit a snag last week, Scales said.

“I got a message (from the city) that the mayor pulled the plug on everything until she decides what to do,” he said.

Kordonowy says she only put the project developer interview process on hold, while allowing all other affordable housing efforts to continue.

With the pool of candidates narrowed to three, Kordonowy said she wanted time for “greater clarity” on the role of the new position, which was questioned by some housing advocates who felt the job may overlap or impede their efforts.

No payoff?

Kordonowy said she supports the new position, characterizing it as a much-needed “kick in the butt to get units built,” but wanted to slow the hiring process in consideration of “those out there already working” on affordable housing.

But the groups in need of a kick can’t receive it until the kicker’s on the field, Scales contends.

Scales zeroed in on the Community Housing Coalition, created by the council two years ago to lead formation of a new affordable housing ordinance after the existing one was repealed.

With an annual budget of approximately $150,000, the CHC is a costly investment that isn’t paying off, Scales said.

“When we formed the CHC we expected to see results,” he said. “We haven’t seen any. The CHC might have to go away.”

CHC director Kat Gjovik said she understands Scales’ frustration, but defended the group’s efforts.

She pointed to the final draft of the new affordable housing ordinance and the recent formation of the Community Land Trust, which helps finance home ownership.

Gjovik also cited progress on a draft “cottage housing” ordinance, which encourages small, clustered housing and the proposed “accessory dwelling program” that would encourage landowners to rent out so-called mother-in-law residences.

Kordonowy said the CHC’s proposals and draft ordinances have been stymied by a lack of qualified city staff.

Former planner Kathy Cook led the city’s affordable housing efforts until she was hired last month as the city’s Winslow Tomorrow project.

In the meantime, planning officials said most affordable housing initiatives will idle until the planning department finds Cook’s replacement.

The city last month directly solicited applications from every city planner in the state. So far, only three have shown interest.

While Kordonowy said there’s little she can do to pull in applicants, she agreed last week to speed up the reforming of the trust fund board, which now includes herself, two community representatives, City Administrator Mary Jo Briggs and Councilman Jim Llewellyn.

The council last year directed the mayor to purge the board of elected officials and those involved in housing projects who may seek funding from the trust.

The new board’s makeup would then include residents more familiar with housing, construction and development issues.

“Right now, the trust fund is not set up to hear (large) proposals,” Scales said. “There’s a log jam with the trust fund that we can clear by having experts in the field who can consider larger projects.”

A key part of the board’s reformation was the exclusion of Kordonowy, whose service on the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority’s board of directors gives her a conflict of interest, he said.

“She can’t do both because the KCCHA could bring proposals to the trust fund,” Scales said. “We gave her a mid-March deadline, but she refused to remove herself.”

Kordonowy strongly denied the conflict of interest charge.

“I don’t see a conflict of interest just because I help make decisions on (the projects) KCCHA brings forward,” she said. “That kind of statement leads me to question (Scales’) motives.”

Kordonowy said she’s recused herself when KCCHA-related efforts that have come before the city for funding or other issues.

While Kordonowy agreed to open the board’s membership over the next month, Scales is wary of the mayor’s newfound commitment reforming and speeding up the city’s efforts in affordable housing.

“Everything she flip-flopped on,” he said. “The mayor now says she’ll finish these. (Until) I’ve see action, consider me skeptical.”

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