Finding ways to be more efficient, increase housing supply

Remarks by Washington State Department of Commerce Director Brian Bonlender, as prepared for the Housing Washington Conference, Oct. 3, 2018.

I’m Brian Bonlender, Director of the Washington State Department of Commerce. I’m delighted to join you this afternoon and have the opportunity to hear from Chris Herbert. Before we kick off, I’d like to take just a few minutes to share an update from our agency. This was a banner year for legislative leadership for affordable housing and homelessness in our state – thanks to so many of you who shared your stories and the stories of people you serve.

I am not going to go into all of our successes from last year, with the Housing Trust Fund, Document Recording Fees and such that previous speakers have covered.

But just a few quick updates, some stemming from successes of the last session, and others that Commerce staff have been busy working on now:

  • The Landlord Mitigation Fund went live in August.
  • New protections for tenants that prohibit discrimination based on a public subsidy, became effective last Sunday.
  • Next month Commerce will start a new Short Course in Affordable Housing targeted to help local elected officials, city and county planners, and advisory volunteers better plan for and preserve affordable housing stock.

We are also making changes to existing housing assistance programs to make them more sustainable and effective.

We’ve been able to help the homelessness system become more effective by increasing the efficiency of dollars invested by 35%, as measured by successful exits to permanent housing.

The Housing Trust Fund was created by the Legislature with the intent of establishing a renewable source of capital funding – but we are not currently delivering on that obligation.

We are hoping to find ways to live up to the statutory intent.  We were one of the first states to have a Housing Trust Fund, but other states do a better job of having funds that replenish themselves.

There are a lot of ways to get more efficient with tax dollars spent to build subsidized affordable housing.  A growing number of companies seek to disrupt the construction industry.  More and more are coming to us demonstrating promising approaches, not flimsy construction with shorter lifespans.

One California company founded just 3 years ago is already a multi-billion dollar company, employing hundreds of people right here in Washington State.

There are many others, and I hope that there are some here today participating in these event, because we need new ideas.  It is absolutely imperative that we find ways to make our state’s hard-earned tax dollars go as far as they can to build units at a lower cost overall, and lower cost to the taxpayer.

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