Or at least it could have been, starting with the 2016 Lodging Tax Advisory Committee funding cycle for the City of Bainbridge Island.

City of Bainbridge Island LTAC Grant Money Awards for 2019
City of Bainbridge Island LTAC Grant Money Awards for 2019

Back in 2015, the Washington State Legislature enacted (SB 1223), which allowed the “option” for cities and counties to use lodging tax revenues to pay for work/live affordable housing. This was made possible by allowing LTAC funds to repay revenue bonds dedicated to affordable workforce housing.

Who would have thought?!

Well... our big brother did, Seattle.

In fact, King County has already codified that 75% of all LTAC grant money must go directly towards repaying GOBs (general obligation bonds (RCW 67.28.150) or RBs (revenue bonds) (RCW 67.28.160) for affordable workforce housing within a half-mile of a transit station, by 2021. 

To date, Bainbridge Island has used $0.00 of the available LTAC grant money towards any of this affordable housing. So for an island that readily speaks of it’s concern of crushing house prices and lack of “affordable” options, why has Bainbridge continued to let this happen? 550 Madison, Suzuki, homeless encampments off the side of 305 and instead we are taking proposals for “wine events” and "website edits". 

What the City of Bainbridge Island has allowed for is a system where “organizations” can apply for grant money under a loose set of rules with even looser oversight. COBI, isn't alone. Lots of local municipalities fullel LTAC money back into the speciality groups. Some provide a value to the community, some provide a value to only a select few. 

For instance, after applying for and receiving $70,000 of the $82,611 they requested in LTAC grant money, the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce produced this 1 page final report

2018 Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce LTAC Final Report
2018 Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce LTAC Final Report

In addition to the shotty bookkeeping and reporting practices of local "tourist organizations", there is also the case of for profit companies forming a “business alliance” and then receiving funding for tens of thousands of dollars in LTAC money to advertise those same for profit businesses.  

We can stop pouring LTAC money into the wine glasses of business owners and into the cups of those that aren’t even half full. In the past 3 funding cycles, the City of Bainbridge Island has awarded , $200,000 in 2017, $273,000 in 2018 and $262,000 in 2019 to eligible LTAC grant recipients. That's about 3/4 of a million ($735,000) dollars which could have already been allocated towards "affordable housing".

The City has a role as they must authorize the bonds and but then LTAC dollars can be used to repay them. This will take some planning but most importantly would take will. The time seems right for the City to take advantage of this modification to the traditional LTAC rules.

This seems to be a way to merge the need for affordable housing with a currently underutilized funding mechanism. Ask your City of Bainbridge Island Councilmember(s) about this.

Applications are being submitted for 2020 right now. The funding cycle information and link to the proposal form can be found at this link 2020 Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.

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