Combining local housing authorities makes good sense to leaders in both organizations.

The consolidation of the Clatsop County Housing Authority (CCHA) and the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority (NOHA) is seen as a way to create one organization that is more efficient and able to streamline services.

But the CCHA board is also focusing on getting a trust fund, which was established more than 20 years ago, back into compliance with the state.

Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) reviewed the status of the $925,000 trust fund earlier this year. They found that more than $700,000 being held as collateral for the housing authority's Clatsop Shores and Bond Street properties did not comply with the settlement agreement, because the properties offered market-rate rental housing. A recent annual audit of the housing authority found the same problem.

The Board of Clatsop County Commissioners dissolved the previous CCHA board in December and took over, acting as the separate government body. Todd Johnston, executive director of NOHA, took on CCHA's administrative duties when the housing authorities entered into an intergovernmental agreement shortly after.

The trust fund was established for low-income housing as part of a settlement agreement between the state and the housing authority in the early 1990s. County commissioners, acting as the CCHA board, sold Emerald Heights Apartments to a private developer. The state had handed off the site to the authority for low-income rental housing.

Scott Lee, chairman of the CCHA board, said they discovered discrepancies with the trust fund when reviewing bank accounts and financial documents in the transition process.

To address problems with the trust fund, the housing authority has sent an action plan to OHCS. The intent, Johnston said, will be to have the trust consolidated into one account eventually, however, for the time being it will remain in four separate accounts, with $619,110 remaining as collateral for Clatsop Shores Apartments and $100,000 for Bond Street Apartments. As part of the action plan, the housing authority is proposing to adjust the rents for both properties so they are within affordable housing guidelines and in compliance with the trust fund.

The housing authority is also proposing to implement an income verification system to make sure its residents fall within the low-income criteria.

The organization is also dealing with a deficiency of $51,107 from the trust fund because of a hang-up with grant funding for the Hyak project in Seaside. The money had been spent on construction in anticipation of the grant. If and when the grant is awarded, CCHA plans to replenish a trust fund account that will bring the amount back to $925,000. Johnston said the action plan is still being reviewed by the state, but expects to hear back soon about the changes.

The settlement agreement requires the trust fund to remain and provide affordable housing in only Clatsop County. A merger between CCHA and NOHA would not change the agreement.

“All the restrictions on that money will still stay the same,” Johnston said.

The CCHA board welcomed public comments at Wednesday's monthly meeting and hearing, but no one attended. The board will be receiving comments on the proposed merger until the next meeting at the end of October. “It’s very important to have that,” said Lee, about the comment period. “We’re basically going to try and get this merger wrapped up next month.”

A committee, which was established by both boards, is reviewing the proposed merger, looking at projections and whether the consolidation would benefit or not benefit the county.

NOHA owns and manages 11 different properties for affordable housing in Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties. With CCHA managing six properties, the merger would create 402 directly managed units by the consolidated organization.

“It’s going to improve services and increase our basic capacity as an organization,” Lee said. “With the two combined, we’ll have more efficient services for the community and all together it will be real positive for the folks that are seeking this kind of housing.”

Some of the positives of a merger, Johnston said, will be the ability to be stronger financially and be aggressive in attracting investment in properties and acquiring grants.

The CCHA board spent time reviewing examples of other housing authorities around the state. Lee said a regional approach was agreed upon, which he said is a trend throughout Oregon.

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