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.
Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn