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City of Seattle

September 19, 6:35 PM click here to comment > 6

Saving money for direct services through smarter government

In a tough economy, government is asked to step up and do more to partner with the public to support economic recovery. We have to find ways to do that work with less financial resources than we had before the recession. One option is making broad cuts to services, reducing their quality and effectiveness. A better option is to find ways for government to operate smarter.

We’ve already announced one way we can do this. By consolidating many of the city’s grant functions into a new Community Grant division within the Department of Neighborhoods, we will be able to reduce the costs of administering grants from $1.5 million to $1.1 million, and increase the funding we can make available to the community from $6.2 million to $6.4 million.

Earlier this year we looked at other ways we could find savings through efficient government. We conducted a feasibility study that examined the work being done by some of our smaller departments. The study showed us that the Office of Housing and the Office of Economic Development both do excellent work to promote affordable housing and job growth in Seattle. The study also found that by breaking down silos between these two offices, we could do even more to promote our goals of shared prosperity, while saving money for direct services.

That’s why I am proposing to merge the Office of Housing and the Office of Economic Development into the Department of Housing and Economic Development. It will save money by reducing administrative costs, allow for increased investments in housing programs, and help support projects that put people back to work building better communities. As a single organization, the Department of Housing and Economic Development will invest in and promote the development and preservation of safe and affordable housing, and help to create a vibrant economy by promoting access to economic opportunities for all of Seattle’s diverse communities.

The Office of Housing is a nationally recognized office that oversees critical investments of our Housing Levy dollars to expand affordable housing in an expensive market. The Office of Economic Development drives the Jobs Plan, including job training programs, business investment funds, and business outreach. Their work is important to building shared prosperity in Seattle. We remain committed to the core mission of each agency. This proposal helps us strengthen both through better coordination and by protecting existing service/program investments.

The creation of the Department of Housing and Economic Development will allow for greater collaboration among housing and economic development policy and programs to build strong communities and to support citizens towards self-sufficiency, with services ranging from housing to employment assistance. It will strengthen the ties between the two offices and allow it to build on past successes in promoting projects that provides essential housing and employment opportunities targeting the City’s lower-income residents. And it will allow our Jobs Plan to more effectively leverage housing and other community projects to put people back to work.

The redevelopment of the Police Department’s East Precinct parking lot into a mixed-use, transit-oriented development to include affordable housing, retail, arts and community space is a recent example of the overlap that occurs between housing and economic development. The Office of Housing and the Office of Economic Development worked together to help make this and several other projects a reality. In this economy, it makes sense to find ways to encourage this kind of collaboration.

By creating the new Department of Housing and Economic Development, we will save $338,000. $210,000 of this savings will be spent on direct housing programs. Low-income renters have been squeezed because of declining apartment vacancy rates, which in turn raises rents. So we will focus much of that new funding on programs that help low-income renters.

My staff and I have discussed this consolidation with affected City staff and a broad spectrum of community stakeholders. The public will have further opportunity to discuss this consolidation during the City Council’s public process as they review my 2012 budget proposal this fall.

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Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn


Comment from Dawn
Time September 20, 2011 at 6:25 am

Like the careful look at services and the efficient streamlining of bureaucracy. A smart democrat at work.

Comment from Sam Burns
Time September 22, 2011 at 9:16 am

Applying lean 6 sigma to all business processes will continually drive improvement.

Comment from huh
Time September 22, 2011 at 9:25 am

We could move the services out of downtown to save on costs. Rent and real estate is signifcantly less expensive outside the city core.

Comment from George Robertson
Time September 23, 2011 at 9:36 am

This is an interesting and prudent improvement. But there is much more to do to get out of the way of economic development and to accelerate housing development, that must be done if Seattle is to house a workforce with diminishing income.

It takes far too long and is insanely expensive to take a small project through the complex and sometimes almost endless morass of design review in Seattle.
All of America including Seattle needs to grasp that most Americans and Seattleites included simply cannot afford the housing we currently have. It is too expensive and they cannot finance it. Most of all we need to understand that this affordability gap is not immediately about to change.

To stabilize our economy we are going to have to reduce the share of income going to house our workforce, and allow a larger share of diminishing income for other forms of consumption. In a nutshell that means living in smaller more cheaply produced homes.

The lowest cost and most effective route to the widespread downsizing that is essential to economic stabilization, is to multiply the number of households housed in Seattle’s existing single family housing stock. Boarding houses, and the subdivision of our oversized housing stock, mostly designed for families of five and above, to more economically accommodate the families of three that we actually have, would house our workfoce affordably and greatly stimulate small construction job creation,

Keeping in mind that most people cannot qualify for financing as a result of their current underemployment means that boot strapping many small projects must be accomplished gradually and financed out of pocket for most, if there are to be anything like the number of such projects needed.

For that to be possible the approval and permit and inspection process for small work must become much simpler, more helpful, and very inexpensive, for the builder.
Seattle’s building department will need to facilitate the start of small project permits for modifications to increase the occupancy of existing housing stock with a $50, one stop, over the counter, subject to inspection construction permit.

This change is necessary even if unimaginable to our population of building regulators. Until we make it, we will continue to have home owners struggling and overburdened with their mortgages, unable to spend on anything else, a growing number of homeless families, and empty spaces where Seattle’s small businesses were.

Comment from Blake Thomas
Time October 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm

This is a great improvement. I like to see my local government doing what they can to increase investments in housing programs.

Comment from money horoscope
Time October 12, 2011 at 5:27 am

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