Housing Finance Commission biased against black-led projects, community groups say
by Ashley Archibald
State commission that distributes debt finance for affordable housing projects works with community members on reform after criticizing its method of allocating needed money bypassing communities of color .
The current point system used by the Washington State Housing Finance Committee (WSHFC) to assign bonds that help fund affordable housing projects ignores black-led or POC-led projects and promotes studio and apartment rentals. ‘a cheaper room that doesn’t work. for larger families, critics said at a Feb.25 meeting in which about 80 community members, organized by King County Equity Now, called to express their anger and frustration.
The process ultimately excludes black communities from access to affordable housing and home ownership, as well as black developers and construction managers from participating in the government-backed program, said K. Wyking Garrett, Chairman of the Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT). ACLT had applied for funding for its Africatown Plaza project during the January cycle, but did not receive funding.
âWhen we look at who actually benefits, who generates the wealth, who gets the main economic gain or the lion’s share of the economic gain from these development projects, it does not at all reflect the community to be affected,â Garrett said to emerald.
It’s too late to reform the points system for the first round of bond allocation in 2021, but the commission met with community members ahead of its April board meeting to change the system to better serve the community.
âWe are at a time when we need to re-evaluate, reset and examine how the scoring criteria impacted the community and seek direction on different outcomes,â said Lisa Vatske, director of multi-family housing and community facilities at the WSHFC, at the Virtual Meeting on February 25.
The bonds in question are part of a program of nearly half a billion dollars in which the state directs low-interest bonds towards private projects of public interest. Housing projects receive the largest share of these funds (42%), followed by the âsmall issuesâ category which funds projects of $ 1 million or less (25%). Bonds can also be allocated to student loans (5%), but if none of this is used, the student loan portion can go to housing.
This program is essential not only because it reduces the cost of financing affordable housing projects, but also because if half of a project is financed by these public bonds, the project has access to a particular category of housing credits. low-rental housing tax (LIHTC). by the federal government which further reduces the cost of building the units.
The dollar amount of the bond cap for a given year is calculated by multiplying the state’s population by 100. If demand does not exceed supply, approved projects receive funding. Otherwise, a competitive process begins and the point system kicks in.
In recent years, demand has exceeded supply and competition is fierce. The January 2021 allocation cycle received 30 requests and funded 13. In 2020, the commission received 52 requests and funded 20. In the previous year, 32 requests were received and 22 were funded.
âIt’s a resource issue,â Vatske said. “We don’t have enough resources.”
This did not suit community members who saw their interests being thwarted all the time, whether it was the availability of funding, the types of units funded, or who were being paid to build those units. Dozens of people showed up for the Zoom Call’s public comment time to talk about the issue, sometimes damning commissioners who used cutting microphones as people stepped in to criticize their meeting decisions and processes. public.
Each project submitted for approval must achieve 40 points. The elements that will earn points for a project include the amount of resources contributed to the project, the number of low income units included, the degree of profitability of the development and the share of the project reserved for priority populations, to name a few. that. a few.
The unit cost and the amount of the deposit ceiling requested are also part of the evaluation of a project outside the points system. It works against black families, who need more rooms to accommodate their households, FAME Housing’s Marcus Price said at the February 25 meeting.
âWhen we look at the size of the unit for the people who make up our community, which is much larger than the one and two bedroom rooms, it looks like we are really being set apart when we want to offer four bedrooms. and three bedrooms, âPrice said.
Ultimately, the question of who receives state funding for housing and why are questions of equity. The systems need to be reformed, acknowledged WSHFC executive director Steve Walker.
âSometimes we need a push, sometimes we need a tough conversation, sometimes we need a collaborative effort,â Walker told community members.
The WSHFC held public forums after the February 25 meeting, Garrett said, and a new slide set posted on March 17 indicated that “two public development authorities will receive an allocation in order to be able to issue on behalf of their 2021 projects (Africatown and North Lot)”.
âThe time has come for us to take bold and unprecedented steps to build a new normal anchored in fairness, and this is a key area for that,â Garrett told the emerald.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated April 2, 2021, with the correct name of WSHFC, which is the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Steve Walker’s title has also been corrected; he is the executive director of the WSHFC, not the commissioner. the emerald regret the mistakes.
Ashley Archibald is a freelance journalist who previously worked for Real Change, the Santa Monica Daily Press, and the Union Democrat. His work focuses on policy and economic development.
Featured Image: The Liberty Bank Building, an affordable housing project created by Africatown Community Land Trust. Africatown and other community groups criticize the way the Washington State Housing Finance Committee (WSHFC) selects projects. Another Africatown project in the 23rd and Spring was denied WSHFC funding in January. (Photo: Andrew Engelson)
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