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This time last year I was walking door to door talking with each of you about your thoughts about the City and you shared with me what your concerns and priorities are for our community. Today I am now your Mayor, and I am tasked with the responsibility to develop a City budget for next year that is responsive to the needs and desires of the citizens. In the coming weeks I will be sharing weekly messages with you that summarize the programs that I have included in my proposed budget. I am doing this to ensure transparency and demonstrate that I heard what you told me when I was on your doorsteps. My budget will be proposed to the City Council in mid to late October and I hope you will review the document, comment and urge the Council to adopt it in November.
Now for this week’s message – As Mayor I hear consistently from citizens that you have concerns about our most vulnerable neighbors, family and friends being able to afford a home or worse yet, potentially losing their homes due to rising rents and an inability to pay. I am pleased to share with you that it is a priority of my administration to promote programs that support affordable and quality housing for our community.
My proposed budget includes two programs that address this serious need:
Here’s why we need a Rental Assistance Program and who it will serve:
Like other communities throughout Washington and the U.S., conventional sources of funding are inadequate to meet the current crisis of housing instability caused by escalating rents and stagnant wages. Over the last 5 years, there has been a 50% increase in average rents in Bremerton. Evidence of the crisis in affordability is the grim statistic that evictions for nonpayment of rent have increased by 90% in the last 3 years.
We have determined that there are two significantly underserved populations in Bremerton that could benefit from a rental assistance program: the working poor and seniors. Both groups typically have household incomes between 40 and 60% of Area Median Income (AMI). The working poor receive wages from food service, retail, and other labor areas. While they may make $12 an hour or more, the full-time wage needed to pay the average rent in Bremerton is over $24 per hour. Retirees on fixed incomes, such as Social Security and modest pensions, have little room in their budgets for the unexpected. For both groups, housing instability results when there is a disruption in income (job loss, reduction in hours, or reduction in benefits), an unanticipated expense (car repair or medical bill), significant increases in rent or other expenses, or some unanticipated crisis affecting income and expenses. These people are less than one month away from being without housing.
$100,000 from the City of Bremerton for a BHA-administered Rental Assistance Program would expand the number of households we can assist in ways that would increase housing stability and decrease the devastating effects of homelessness. The target population for this Rental Assistance Program would be households with an income between 40 and 60% of AMI. We expect to be able to implement this assistance in January of 2019.
A little bit about the Weatherization and Minor Home Repair Program:
The City has been funding this program with Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for many years, and has had many successes in assisting members of our community to stay in their homes. Unfortunately the amount of Federal Funding has been decreasing annually. This year I am pleased to put local funding into this program and make it a priority for the City.
The Weatherization and Minor Home Repair Program benefits those in our community who struggle to afford heating bills which often forces them to make choices between staying warm and paying for rent or food. $100,000 of City funding would fund the installation of weatherization measures and minor home repairs for a number of our low-income neighbors resulting in a 30% reduction in energy use.
The goal of this program is to provide safe, energy efficient, affordable housing to low-income households. This program includes the installation of energy savings measures which are designed to yield a return on investment. These improvements also will reduce health risks for vulnerable families and create healthier living environments for children and adults. The program will make improvements such as: Insulation, combustion safety testing, minor home repairs, and health and safety improvements. We expect to prioritize households with an extremely high housing cost burden, seniors and disabled person(s) households, and families with children under 19 years of age.
If you have any comments about these programs or would like more information, please call or email me at: 360-473-5266 or Greg.Wheeler@ci.bremerton.wa.us.
Mayor, City of Bremerton