Blog Post

Thanksgiving Message 2017

November 22, 2017
Michael Mirra, Executive Director

Dear Friends of THA:

As you may know, I write at this time of the year to catch you up on the news from the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA).  Writing you is also a chance to reflect on THA’s work, its value and what it takes to get it done.  It takes hundreds of partners like you: elected local, state and national leaders, their hardworking staff, public and private funders, lenders and investors, foundation and public program officers, architects, planners, builders, suppliers, construction workers, financial advisors, auditors, attorneys, grant writers, other housers, advocates, service partners, journalists, teachers and counselors, school district staff, police officers, community groups, unions, and neighborhood organizations.  The Thanksgiving holiday is a good time to thank you. 

If you care for details, I attach my full update.  It mainly reports on THA’s work this year in the following four areas.  A common theme among them is THA’s efforts to adjust to Tacoma’s steeply rising rental market, one of the tightest in the nation:

THA’s Education Project and its exciting expansion this past year

My report reviews the year for THA’s innovative and ambitious. Education Project.  This is an effort to spend a housing dollar, not just to house needy families, but also to help them succeed in school and help the schools and colleges educate their low-income students.  In my report I give news on THA’s Elementary School Housing Assistance Program and the College Housing Assistance Program.  I describe the challenge we face in making these program models work in Tacoma’s steeply climbing rental market, and how we are responding to those challenges.  I also report on the first two years of THA’s College Savings Accounts for the Children of Salishan, and what is coming for that effort to help our students aspire to college, prepare for it, pay for it and feel they belong when they go.

THA’s Arlington Drive Youth Campus

I describe the campus THA is developing on 3.5 acres it owns called Arlington Drive.  We will build a 12 bed Crisis Residential Center(CRC)/HOPE bed facility to serve homeless youth 12 to 17 years old.  It will serve over 500 youth a year in a program model by Community Youth Services (CYS) that has a 95% success rate of discharging youth to safe and stable housing.  We will build 40 to 60 apartments to house homeless young adults.  We will also build a community facility, all on a planned campus that we intend will feel safe and look lovely.  This campus will be Pierce County’s chance to show the nation how to serve these young people well, and at scale.  This campus will give these young persons a second chance at a reasonable adolescence and a reasonable adulthood, without abuse, exploitation or fear.  I also explain how this project further matures THA’s understanding of where it fits in service to persons who need more than housing.  Homeless youth and young adults, for example, need specialized services that THA does not know how to provide and does not wish to learn.  Instead, we partner with high capacity organizations like CYS that do know how to do this hard work and that do it well.  Our role is to provide the land, to raise the capital dollars, to use our real estate development capacity to build it, and to provide the long-term rental assistance to make it sustainable.  We also offer what might be the most significant contribution of all to homeless young people who are not accustomed to ever getting it or feeling it:  a warm welcome.

THA’s Real Estate Developments

2017 has been a busy year for THA’s real estate development.  I note that this Summer we opened Bay Terrace, our newest construction.  Senator Patty Murray and Congressmen Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck helped us cut that ribbon.  Our wonderful Mayor Marilyn Strickland was the Mistress of Ceremonies with her customary grace and insight.  Bay Terrace and its 140 apartments is THA’s most recent investment in the Hilltop.   In my report, I review why this is timely.  The Hilltop is changing fast.  We can foresee that in five years its only affordable housing and affordable retail space, and it only notable measure of racial and economic diversity, will be what THA and its nonprofit partners presently own or control.  That is also true for West Tacoma.  For that reason, in ways my report reviews, THA is purchasing properties.  If you read that far into my report, you will also learn how THA came to be the only housing authority in the nation, that we know of, that is the proud landlord of a hookah lounge. 

Expiring Five Year Time Limits on THA Rental Assistance

Almost five years ago, THA changed the rules for households newly joining our rental assistance programs.  One of the new rules is for persons who can work.  For them, we impose a five-year time limit on the assistance.  We do this for two reasons.  First, we hope it will spur people to strive.  We are examining our data to see if this worked.  The second reason we impose 5-year time limits has nothing to do with data or expectation.  We did it to solve a problem at THA.  We serve a relatively small number of lucky households who have the golden ticket to deep, permanent rental subsidies.  Meanwhile, tens of thousands of families look in from the outside getting nothing.  They cannot even get on our waiting list.  There is no way to explain by any factor that should matter who gets help and who gets nothing.  They are the same by need, income, race, family composition, language, ethnicity, age and ability and disability.  Only two factors explain who is in and who is out, and both are troublesome: luck and savvy.  A five-year time limit expresses the peasant truth that at some point it is someone else’s turn.  Our part of the deal is to offer enhanced supportive services to help households increase their earned income and be more prepared for the unsubsidized rental market when their five years expires.

The first of the 5-years will be expiring Spring 2018.  That hard day is coming when a mother, a month before her 5 years are up, will have just lost her job, or fallen sick, or given birth to her second child.  Are we really going to end her rental subsidy?  The present answer is that we will likely give her an extension.  Under our present rules, the extension can last up to a full year if she engages in education or job training to increase her earned income.  After the extension is up then we will end her subsidy whether she is ready or not.  We will not like it but we will do it because we know there is a mother just like her waiting.  THA staff are analyzing the data to date.  We are consulting with community partners and families.  We will have a report to the THA Board in time for it to decide whether to make any further changes to our rules.

You make our work possible.  You make the work effective.  Also, you make it meaningful and enjoyable.  On behalf of THA’s Board of Commissioners and staff, we are grateful.

I hope your holidays are peaceful and meaningful.

Thank you!