Spokane could leave millions in federal grants on the table, says former director of housing and homelessness

Spokane’s former director of housing and homelessness said the city isn’t developing affordable housing fast enough and could leave millions of dollars in federal grants on the table.

In a Sept. 30 memo to Mayor Nadine Woodward and City Administrator Johnnie Perkins, John E. Hall III offered seven pages of advice on how the city could better address its housing and housing crisis. homelessness.

Hall, who has more than 20 years of affordable housing experience at the federal, state and local levels, resigned in late September after spending just three months as Spokane’s director of neighborhood, housing and social services. . His predecessor, Cupid Alexander, led the new division for less than a year.

“The following unsolicited comments are intended to be nonpartisan, honest and respectful,” Hall wrote in his memo.

Some of Hall’s recommendations were quite minor. For example, he says the mayor should hold weekly press conferences and notes that the name of Spokane’s Neighborhood, Housing, and Social Services Division sounds confusingly similar to its Department of Community Housing and Social Services.

Other observations in the memo are more significant.

For example, Hall criticizes city staff for acting without a “lack of urgency to be results-oriented during this homelessness crisis” and adds that they “seem to be focused on a work-life balance, which which is paradoxical because their career is aimed at helping vulnerable people”. populations in emergency situations.

Hall notes that the Spokane City Council in August awarded $10 million in affordable housing for 11 projects that will create more than 200 homes. The city has 26 planned affordable housing projects that have not been built, Hall said.

City spokesman Brian Coddington strongly defended city staff. He said many neighborhood, housing and social service workers are new and “still getting up to speed”.

“Staff and the mayor’s office share the frustration that things can’t go even faster,” Coddington said.

Coddington also noted that over the past three years the city has expanded its network of homeless shelters and seen a slew of new housing developments.

“A lot of work has been done,” he said, “and all has been lost in the unfortunate reviews that city staff continue to receive.”

Hall also said the line between the city council and the mayor’s office has become blurred. In Spokane, the mayor’s office serves as the executive branch while the city council has legislative power.

“The city’s charter for a strong mayoral form of government is being chipped away,” Hall wrote. “The mayor of any party affiliation should be empowered to design programs, budgets and initiatives subject to legislative adoption.”

Hall provided no specific example of how the city council reduces the power of the mayor.

“I don’t really know what he’s talking about,” City Council Speaker Breean Beggs said. “I think the vagueness he’s talking about is a misunderstanding of our unique charter and he thinks maybe the mayor should be making policy and council should be approving whatever the mayor comes up with.”

Coddington said the mayor agreed with Hall and believed the council was seeking to weaken the power of his office. He pointed to the city council’s decision to restrict how Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl can use asset forfeiture funds.

Hall’s most notable observations were not about city staff or the balance of power between Spokane’s legislative and executive branches.

His most significant criticisms relate to affordable housing, in particular Spokane’s efforts to secure subsidies through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Spokane would get more money from the federal government if it took full advantage of affordable housing programs, Hall wrote.

“He identified millions and millions of dollars that we could use to build long-overdue housing,” Beggs said. “Why we haven’t done this before is a bit beyond me.”

Hall said the city stands to lose several million dollars under the Community Development Block Grant program if it fails to spend $3 million by May 1.

He wrote that Spokane received a warning this spring from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The warning said the city was not spending its grant money “in a timely manner and continued non-compliance could result in penalties, including loss of funds and other corrective action.”

Community development block grant funds aren’t the only federal dollars at risk, Hall wrote. He said the city could “leave $8.5 million on the table” by allocating grants inefficiently and earmarking Treasury Department dollars for uses that could be covered by the Department of Housing and Development. urban.

Coddington said that to his knowledge, the city has not missed any federal funding for affordable housing.

“The team continues to move forward with each of them to ensure they receive the time, attention and resources needed,” he said.

About Florence L. Silvia

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