City Council votes down housing merger

The Bremerton City Council voted 5-4 to oppose the merger of the Bremerton Housing Authority and the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority Wednesday night.

The near-capacity crowd, many of whom were affiliated with one of the housing authorities, erupted in applause following the vote.

The decision allows the city’s housing authority to continue its recently found momentum in the $300 million redevelopment of the low-income housing neighborhood.

The action ended months of debate on whether Bremerton should merge its city-based housing authority with KCCHA, which represents all other Kitsap cities and the county. If the ordinance had passed, it would have allowed the mayor and one councilor on the KCCHA board and given the city, what some called, a more regional approach to housing.

Opponents questioned the merger’s merits.

“To think consolidation will increase home ownership is not realistic,” said Councilor Cecil McConnell, who voted against the measure, along with Wendy Priest, Brad Gehring, Dianne Robinson, and Mike Shepherd.

“This is like going off a gang plank on a ship, there’s no returning back on board,” he said.

Council members in favor of the merger were Carol Arends, Mike Short, Will Maupin, and Daren Nygren.

“The ability to relocate families is severely hampered without consolidation,” Nygren said.

The Westpark redevelopment would move many of the low-income residents to other areas within, and not more than five miles from, the BHA’s jurisdictional boundaries. In order to move residents throughout the county, the BHA needs approval from the city or county governing that area. The disbursement of low-income residents is part of a change in the Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

If the council had opted to join KCCHA, residents would automatically have the option to move anywhere in the county.

Nygren also voiced his concerns with BHA’s lack of accountability to the city and that citizens have no control over the organization, which has a $25 million budget.

“We’ve spent too many years keeping things the same. We need to make a bold move forward,” Maupin said.

But some council members were concerned that a merger would set the project back years.

In a study session Tuesday, the City Council (Shepherd did not attend) heard presentations from both housing authorities.

BHA officials, who were pleased with Wednesday’s decision, said the merger talks have prompted them to make changes in how the organization does business.

Lynn Horton, chairwoman for the BHA board of directors, told the council Tuesday there has been a shift in the organization’s culture. But she also hinted at possible legal action and probable delays.

“(A merger) is going to slow down the progress on Westpark. There is no doubt in my mind this is going to delay it for minimally a year,” she said.

Officials also said the city would be included in its decisions and have asked that a council member serve on its newly formed development advisory committee.

Horton also told the council BHA wants to form a consortium of low-income housing entities including non-profits.

KCCHA officials urged the council to consider the regional advantage that they could offer Bremerton.

“No wheel has to be reinvented, you’re already at the table,” said Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel, who also serves at chairwoman of the KCCHA board.

Wednesday’s vote ends months of deliberation stemming from Mayor Cary Bozeman’s request to study the issue.

He said no matter the Council’s decision, the issue of providing respectful, affordable housing will continue to be on the radar screen.

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