PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has awarded a $300,000 grant to Peninsula Housing Authority to secure affordable housing in the city.
Half of the grant will be used to rehabilitate four existing multi-family apartment buildings. The other $150,000 will be go toward building five new affordable housing units.
Peninsula Housing Authority serves Clallam and Jefferson counties with properties in Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Port Hadlock and Forks.
The Port Angeles City Council approved the grant by unanimous consent Tuesday after a robust discussion on housing, its No. 1 priority.
“When we don’t have affordable housing, the flip side of it is homelessness, and homelessness almost always costs more in government services like hospital visits and law enforcement visits than affordable housing does,” Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said before the vote.
“So yes, this is expensive, but the alternative is even more expensive.”
Peninsula Housing Authority formed a tax credit partnership called Public Plaza LLLP to own, operate and renovate four existing affordable housing properties in the city, Community and Economic Development Director Allyson Brekke told the council.
It consists of the 70-unit Mount Angeles View Manor at 323 E. Second St., the 40-unit Mount Angeles View Villa at 401 E. Fifth St., the 60-unit Mount Angeles View Terrace at 114 E. Sixth St. and the 48-unit Lee Plaza at 112 W. First St.
“Rehabilitation and preservation of these existing multi-family structures ensures those households and individuals currently residing at these buildings will have a modernized, affordable place to live for many more years to come,” PHA Executive Director Sarah Martinez said in a March 5 grant request to the city.
“Once complete, Public Plaza will continue to serve households below 60 percent of area median income as well as have a set-aside for disabled or elderly households.”
PHA had requested $250,000 from the city to support Public Plaza.
The council approved $150,000 for Public Plaza and $150,000 for the development, design or construction of five new affordable housing units in the city.
“We are actually reflecting on the housing needs assessment recommendation of building new housing units,” Brekke said, referring to a 2019 study that identified a need for 1,121 additional single-family units by 2025.
“So it’s $50,000 over their original ask.”
In a Wednesday interview, Martinez said there was “absolutely” a need for more affordable housing in the city.
“The city is a good partner with the PHA,” Martinez added.
“We have a long history of working together, and I believe that, under my role with the PHA, since it’s relatively new, that we’ve made good headway in a short amount of time of developing a good working relationship.”
Martinez became executive director in May 2020.
“I certainly appreciate the city’s willingness to be a player in affordable housing,” Martinez said.
Brekke said she recommended the grant with an expectation that PHA would repay in full a $522,977 loan it secured through the city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) program to renovate Lee Plaza, a former downtown hotel that was converted to housing in the late 1990s.
“They are still on target to pay off that loan completely by the end of May 2021,” Brekke told the council.
Martinez confirmed Wednesday that the loan would be repaid this month.
She added that PHA was “about a week away” from closing its Public Plaza agreement. She said the agency would provide more details once the project is finalized.
“There’s just some nuance to things that I need to have certainty of before I put it out for press,” Martinez said in a telephone interview.
Of the 218 total units in Public Plaza, 170 will be converted under a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) voluntary conversion “Section 8” program, Brekke told the City Council.
Brekke said the project was a “great example of the critical step of preserving our existing affordable housing units within our city.”
“They’re going to be the developer of the project, the issuer of the bonds and serve as the management agent,” Brekke said of PHA.
Brekke added that the agency had “a lot of great projects that are on the planning board.”
Schromen-Wawrin described a “Byzantine world” of public housing financing that requires expert staff.
Absent a “massive infusion” of federal funding, Schromen-Wawrin said the system cannot keep up with the demand for affordable housing.
“It’s a structural problem,” he said.
“In the short term, this (grant) is great, and this is exactly the direction we need to go. We just need to scale it up, but we don’t have the resources to do that at this point.”
Mayor Kate Dexter said the Public Plaza rehabilitation would occur without displacing current residents.
“I think that’s a really important piece that sometimes gets lost,” Dexter said.
Council member Mike French said the Public Plaza portion of the grant was a “huge, important piece” because it preserves existing housing.
He added that a lack of middle-income home construction in recent decades had contributed to a high demand for more expensive new units.
“In a perfect world, we would have been building a lot more apartments that, 20 years later — after they were market rate for 20 years — they would have been affordable because they were dated and older,” French said.
“Building brand new affordable housing isn’t the best deal, but at this point it’s the best option.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.