March 22, 3:44 PM click here to comment > 13
Rick Hooper to serve as interim director of the Office of Housing
Today, we are pleased to announce that Rick Hooper will be interim director of the Office of Housing. Rick has been with the city for 30 years. For the past ten years, he has been the director of policy and program development for the Office of Housing. Recently, Rick has worked to plan and to implement Seattle’s Housing Levy, approved overwhelmingly by voters last November. He was previously the manager of the city’s rental program.
We are fortunate to have someone of his experience and expertise to lead the department.
Many have asked whether I intend to start a search process for a new Director of the Office of Housing, which is a fair question. But there is another question we have to answer first — in light of public priorities, changes in federal policies and our current budget situation, what is the best way to support our housing objectives?
I am a strong supporter of affordable housing, having supported the housing levy and incentives for affordable housing. I quit my job as a lawyer to found the non-profit Great City to help build support for sustainable communities that included more affordable housing. And while housing prices have declined recently, so have incomes, so the need for strong housing policies and actions remains as great as ever.
But the question I have challenged my staff to answer is whether this is best accomplished by having a separate housing office, or should we look at integrating some or all of its work with other departments that also play critical roles in building sustainable communities? Can we strengthen planning functions that support housing, economic development, land use, transportation and environmental policies? Can we get better policy implementation by putting staff into better contact with each other?
The federal government is leading the way with its Sustainable Communities Initiative. Federal Housing grants will no longer be handed out solely based on housing objectives. Cities will have to show how they are integrating housing with zoning, transportation, environmental, health and economic objectives to qualify for federal funding. The Feds are looking to break down the silos that prevent integrated planning and implementation.
We face the same challenges in city government. A successful housing policy requires that it be integrated with zoning, transportation, environmental, regulatory and economic development choices and that the amenities people seek promoting healthy and safe communities are encouraged. Yet all too often departments act in silos, not fully understanding how a policy in one department affects another, or failing to find ways to leverage opportunities by coordinated action. At the same time it can be more difficult to partner with outside agencies or groups that share our vision.
The city’s current budget situation also comes into play. Streamlining government to reduce overhead and administrative support costs might help us reduce a projected $10 million deficit for 2010 and the $50 million deficit in 2011 while reducing impacts on direct services to the public.
We are also aware that reorganizations do not always save money or improve services, in fact, sometimes they do the opposite. So we are going into this process thoughtfully, and will only act after a thorough review of costs and benefits.
For all of these reasons — breaking down silos within city government, making us more competitive for federal dollars, and reducing overhead and administrative costs — I have challenged my staff to examine all our options for how we organize city government to provide the best possible services with taxpayer dollars. As noted above, this analysis will take time. Recommended changes, if any, will be incorporated into our 2011 budget recommendations.
Until we answer those questions, we are fortunate to have strong staff to continue implementation of our housing policies. And we look forward to creating even stronger ways to create affordable housing in Seattle.
Bill Rumpf’s resignation and Rick Hooper’s appointment as Interim Housing Director take effect April 9.
Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn