Thurston Thrives has a housing strategy

Once, a long time ago in a city far, far away — well, the Midwest — I was a grad student grading a stack of poli sci papers. It was late. I was tired and was fading slowly into a dream when I read this sentence: “Despite man’s best efforts, life became what was feared, a doggy dog world.”

“Huh,” I wondered, “What the hell does that mean?” Sounds like a fun place, doggies everywhere. Weirdly unexpected, though, especially as the subject of the paper was Thomas Hobbes.

So, I got up and as I went to the fridge for some thinkin’ juice. I said it out loud, “doggy dog world” and then I got it. In the margin I made the language usage correction and that was that, but then I wondered, what does this broken aphorism mean to the person wielding it? Does saying “doggy dog” get you to the same place that “dog-eat-dog” does?

In the same vein, another tortured idiom: “The proof is in the pudding.” No, actually, it isn’t. It’s “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.”

This latter phrase tells us that the success of an endeavor is established upon the critically evaluated outcome of that endeavor. And that makes sense, validity premised upon evidence. The incorrect phrase, however, tells us that success is found solely within the process, not the result. And that, when repeatedly applied, is problematic.

Recently, I found myself at a regularly scheduled local inter-jurisdictional housing meeting. The subject was a recurring annual topic familiar to anyone who reads the paper, especially these past six months. The question I heard, however, was new.

A local councilperson whose municipality has a vital voice in the discussion asked this (paraphrased): “If this idea fails, not once, or twice, or three times, or four, how many times do we try the same idea before acknowledging that we may have the wrong idea?” Crickets … Undeterred, the councilperson posed the question again.

And the answer, when it came, was resignedly constructed with an awareness of the tautology, “Well, we keep trying.” However sincere and well-intended the answer was, it could have also been, “The proof is in the pudding.”

But, as we know, it’s not. Locally, a variety of county, state and federal funding sources designed to provide subsidized housing and shelter for persons in need are combined and distributed through the Thurston County HOME Consortium. They are the authorizing environment; they are not responsible for prescribing a remedy or discerning its measure of effectiveness.

It is not stipulated that they fund only evidence-based, best-practice programming. Working as decision makers, this body is entirely limited by what it receives. Without a comprehensive strategy map, charting the correct path is near impossible. So, blaming the consortium alone for funding choices is like blaming your car for a speeding ticket.

Across the table are the service providers. Without a map, the providers have choices to make. They can promote evidence-based, cost-effective, best practices like Sidewalk and other outcome-driven local programs pursue.

Or, one could also boldly go where no one has gone before and offer a flashy and whimsical idea that promoters believe will best capture the attention of the consortium. Without established and utilized parameters, marketing unfortunately competes with evidence.

For providers, this creates unnecessary stress and confusion as we aren’t sure what to offer: proven strategies or novel ideas. The result is a lack of nonprofit coordination and, thus, a lack of cooperation between providers who are, nevertheless, serving a high crossover population

I didn’t write this column to complain, but to give attention to a potential direction forward. It is a map. I hope that you will look at it and that when you do you’ll recognize many goals that you agree with but maybe haven’t heard much about.

You will see that the tax-paying private sector plays a prominent role in creating affordable housing choice and is incentivized to minimize risk. The map balances the need for homeless prevention and emergency shelter with the need to modify impact fees, so that a low-income project pencils out for the private developer. It addresses both acute and chronic situations. The map helps keep people at risk of homelessness in their homes while helping others keep their older homes healthy.

This map, which is a product of the numerous participants of Thurston Thrives, describes a Thurston County that is not some go-it-alone, dog-eat-dog world. It is a partnership in which we are all vested members.

Here it is, I hope you will give it a taste: co.thurston.wa.us/health/thrives/docs/HousingStrategyMap_10Dec2013-FinalDraft.pdf.

Curt Andino is the executive director of South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity, serves on Thurston Thrives and is a member of The Olympian’s 2014 Board of Contributors. He can be reached at curt.andino@spshabitat.org.