Enter 2019-Building the Future

HDC ED Article: Enter 2019—Building the Future

Another year is behind us. It was, as you know, not just any other year. Certainly not for your affordable housing association. Last year, HDC members gathered many times to “embrace the past” and celebrate 30 remarkable, and remarkably impactful, years.

The shared respect for those decades of commitment was evident in the work of a small group of long-time HDC leaders and staff who toiled through many meetings, memories, and archives to compile a set of banners—powerful visual statements honoring years of work by so many people and making 30 years of artifacts accessible to each of us, today’s leaders who are tasked with the responsibility of “building the future.”

I’m frequently surprised when I learn new details about world and U.S. history that add depth, clarity, and challenging truths to what we’re typically taught or hear as lore. It’s true that we often ignore all that we could learn simply by understanding history. I guess some of that just reflects our yearning to look and move forward and our tendency to assume the past is less relevant and instructive than it really is.

There are some things about the HDC past, however, that we should not only dwell on, but use as the foundation on which to build our next decade of work. For example, as the first association of its kind in the nation, HDC is uniquely enriched by a long history of engagement from a contingent of exceptional nonprofits. And HDC members from all areas have been stellar advocates who work persistently to renew critical levies that support housing. Member involvement in HDC programming and leadership development opportunities continually fuel the workforce needed to anticipate and respond to complex emerging issues.

So how do we think about the future? According to the King County Regional Affordable Housing Task Force (RAHTF), we need 156,000 affordable homes today…or 244,000 homes by 2040. Those numbers are daunting. As a “right now” number, 156,000 operates outside the realm of our practical comprehension. So it was decided that it would be better to set a goal of 44,000 additional affordable homes every five years until 2040.

All of us are preoccupied with how many households and how many individuals are struggling with housing security. We all wonder if it’s possible to address the full need when we’re already performing at peak day after day during an ongoing crisis.

But aren’t we the ones expected to confront and absorb the magnitude of the gap that still exists between our best performance and the need? We’re definitely the ones handed the responsibility to build the shared direction for the next decades of work in this area. So again, I ask: how do we think about the future?

I think the first critical step is finding the space—making the space—to have meaningful and impactful conversations and to constructively challenge each other. In that spirit, here are some of my top conversation starters:

1) HDC is unique in its structure and now has nearly 180 diverse members making up what our predecessors referred to as a “big tent.” We have to master the leverage of that influence and join forces across sectors to change the regressive revenue model in our state. We cannot
continue to ask local elected officials and voters to add more regressive sales and property taxes that in the end still leave us far short of the resources we need and actually exacerbate the challenges of those struggling on the periphery.

2) We need to bring regional decision making and regional action to the challenge of achieving scale. The RAHTF took up this question and discovered how challenging it will be for us to work through the cultural barriers of this kind of change. But bottom line? It’s jugular to any level of success. So is efficiency, especially in the face of limited time and resources; we have to look for ways to reduce fragmentation and overlap in the work of like minded organizations.

3) Throughout all of our efforts to improve effectiveness and efficiency, we must never sacrifice the excellence this membership has become known for in both the services we provide and the products we produce. No one who struggles with housing insecurity should ever be identified by word, by action, or by the quality of their home as “lesser than.” We can continue to build quality housing, deepen its sustainability, and ensure healthy living environments while also reaping life cycle cost savings.

4) The bright line we have drawn between the role of the nonprofit and for-profit development sectors must be evaluated. To achieve scale we need every shovel, trowel, and saw focused on one thing: production (and where feasible, preservation). I encourage us to find ways to leverage our individual strengths into collective action and impact.

5) Most importantly, we must overcome the blatant inequities that exist in our county. This has to be the bellwether of all of our efforts going forward. There can be no compromise.

There are many more topics we could start with. I’m sure you have some you are ready to toss out there as well—please share those with me or any HDC staff member. I hope that 2019 is the year of rich discourse and challenge. I hope it’s also the one where we together develop strategies that have all of us working to house over 8,000 additional households a year and enable all of our King County neighbors to live with dignity in safe, healthy, and affordable homes within communities of opportunity.

Here’s to the start of an incredible year,

Marty Kooistra