Port Townsend moves to renegotiate interlocal agreements on affordable housing

PORT TOWNSEND — After a lengthy and sometimes contentious discussion about funding, the Port Townsend City Council voted to terminate existing interlocal agreements between the city, Jefferson County and Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCap) relating to affordable housing.

The council’s ad hoc committee on housing was tasked with negotiating a new agreement between the entities and taking a look at other nonprofits that serve those in need of housing.

The vote Monday was 6-1, with Council member Robert Gray voting no.

The recommendation provides a 90-day notice of termination to be given July 1.

During this time, a new interlocal agreement relating to affordable housing will be developed.

The termination date can be extended if negotiations are progressing.

Council members Michelle Sandoval, Amy Howard and David Faber are on the ad hoc committee.

The action was taken primarily to update the current agreements.

In 2003 and 2005, agreements were entered into when the recording fees supporting the creation of housing funds were much lower — $10 — than those currently authorized for $62.

Questions have arisen on financial reports and accounting of money collected, and whether an adopted plan required by state law actually has been adopted and is currently in place.

Also in question is OlyCap’s request for proposal (RFP) funding process.

Agencies including Dove House and Habitat for Humanity have submitted RFPs for some of these funds, but their requests have gone unanswered.

Dove House Executive Director Beulah Kingsolver said her organization runs an emergency shelter.

“We serve women and children by providing emergency housing and a local domestic shelter. Not once in 10 years have we accessed these funds,” Kingsolver said.

Sandoval asked that the council committee be tasked with being the lead negotiator on the terms of the new interlocal agreement.

“The budget needs to be clear,” Sandoval said.

“The monies that are gathered need to be accounted for and we, as a partner with the county, have an accounting that we can show the public. At $62 per recording, that would equate to over $600,000 in a year. That money clearly needs to be accounted for.”

Sandoval went onto to express a concern about how funds are given out.

“And with all due respect to the county and OlyCap, the way the interlocal is written, OlyCap is the one who disperses the funds,” she said.

“We think there needs to be a third party oversight. That’s why we want to bring the stakeholders in and have an interlocal that reflects the greater value of the community. It’s not just OlyCap that has the opportunity. It needs to be more equitable.”

District 1 County Commissioner Kate Dean addressed the council during the public comment portion of the meeting and in three minutes outlined the commission’s position.

She invited the council to come to the table for negotiation instead of choosing the option of termination.

“We are pleased the recently passed legislation will give us all more funds to put toward homelessness and affordable housing efforts,” Dean said.

“We wish to be more strategic and long term in securely funding the emergency shelter. We hope to engage and fund a broad group of housing providers to serve a more diverse population needing assistance.

“There’s lots of common ground here between the county and the city. We look forward to working with you on these issues.”

She expressed concern, however, about the legality of the motion the council was debating.

“We are concerned about your proposal to terminate the interlocals. Sections D2 of both agreements state that these should remain in full force and effect until the parties agree in writing to terminate the agreement,” Dean said.

“Our legal council interprets this to mean multiple parties must agree in writing.”

Dean pointed out that the total revenue for 2018 for the affordable housing fund is estimated to be approximately $46,000.

The Ending Homelessness Fund will generate about $230,000 this year.

For 2019, the projections are about 10 percent higher.

“These revenues are not sufficient to scratch the surface of the local need, especially given the emergency shelter is projected to cost $220,000 for year-round operation,” Dean said.

“We will need to be strategic to make these funds meet the needs for the many in our community.”

Dean also pointed out that the city and the county both hold one seat on the OlyCap board and have equal say in the actions of the organization.

“Decisions have not been made in a vacuum or without city input, representation or without public access.”

Mayor Deborah Stinson said she was sorry this process is seen as adversarial.

“When you hear ‘notice to terminate’ it seems adversarial and I personally don’t see it as that,” she said.

“This is the tool to get us there. I’ll tell you that when we met with the commissioners and we had the need for the summer shelter, they came to the table and speedily got things done. I’m confident that when there’s a timeline and urgency, it will get done. When I look at this it is not a termination. It is a notice to terminate.

“We recognize that the current system is not serving all of us as well as it should,” she said.

“By doing this July 1, it also sets us up to know where we stand with the budget season. It’s critically important for the city. If we are going to have to be coming up with different money or different solutions, we are going to have to know that in time for budget. If we don’t start this process right now, we won’t have that information in time.”

Sandoval agreed that this action wasn’t adversarial.

“This is the big button that you reset and you say yeah, let’s do this.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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