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Cuts, resignations at Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority

The sudden retirement of Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority (KCCHA) Executive Director Norm McLoughlin last week was the result of a series of risky administrative decisions compounded by the national housing crisis, according to sources.

“Time will tell what happens next,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, who is the current KCCHA board chair. “We have a lot of work to do, beginning with a budgeting and staffing plan.”

The housing authority has made several property investments using adjustable-rate mortgages and as a result were unable to pay off loans when rates began to skyrocket.

To deal with the debt burden the KCCHA board instructed the agency to sell off properties in order to make payments. The housing authority will also be presenting further cost-cutting measures to the KCCHA board Tuesday afternoon – the specifics of those cuts were not available at the time of printing.

In Bainbridge Island, the housing authority has been crucial in saving low-income properties or relocating low-income residents. It has been involved with Serenity House, 550 Madison Ave. and the Rhododendron apartments. KCCHA also supported the self-help home building program on Weaver Ave.

According to Sarah Lee, public affairs officer for KCCHA, the financial troubles and restructuring at the organization would not affect ongoing KCCHA projects on the island such as Serenity House.

“The people we helped shouldn’t be affected,” Lee said. “The (Serenity House) project is funded separately and we have money for that set aside.”

McLoughlin will be replaced in the short term by KCCHA Finance Director Debbie Broughton, who has been with the housing authority for 14 months.

“We’re going to consolidate staff into one building, sell off some properties to deal with debt and reduce staff,” Broughton said of the actions the KCCHA must take in the near future.

Broughton also said that the organization will have to focus on maintaining it’s base rather than expanding and acquiring new property.

“It’s our goal to preserve our core mission,” she said. “I don’t see our residents are going to notice any difference in service. We’re not kicking anyone out of their homes, we’re refocusing our efforts from the development side to our core housing mission.”

Angel said the problems at KCCHA resulted from diverse factors, but that the KCCHA board “was not given the data it needed in order to make a proper decision”, based on the organizations financial status.

“These problems go back a while,” she said, adding that it took “a lot of digging” by herself and North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer in order to discover the scope of the problem.

The troubles within the housing authority have been compounded by the collapse of the housing market, which is stretching the authority’s resources thin, Lee said.

“It’s a lot of responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable people,” Lee said. “It costs a lot and you can’t raise rent at our facilities so the gap gets larger.”

“We are getting 50 phone calls per day, that includes Bainbridge people, that are going into foreclosure,” Lee said “A lot of times we can help them, but we only get $350 per-person from the government to help with foreclosures and we help those people for 10 to 12 months. We’ve got a line of people out the door.”

The financial situation at the housing authority became a political football when former Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel, who is opposing Angel for the 26th District Legislative seat, recruited legislators and state authorities to outline a possible assistance plan.

“It’s vital that we figure out a solution to avoid putting the taxpayers on the hook for another bailout plan,” Abel said in a press release.

Abel plans to approach the State Housing Finance Commission and the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development to help prevent the KCCHA from defaulting on its loans.

“We need to make sure that people in lower-income homes aren’t threatened by this situation,” she said. “We need to assure them they will not become homeless.”

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