BREMERTON - Whether a 50-yard dash or a 5,000-meter run it's always nice to see the finish line come into view. Just ask folks at the Bremerton Housing Authority. One's just come into their sights.
Five years ago the Authority unveiled a big idea - transforming the 83-acreWestpark public housing complex into a mixed-income neighborhood called Bay Vista. Some said it would never happen. Others welcomed the proposal. The Kitsap Sun, for example, said Bay Vista could as appropriately been called New Beginnings.
Fifteen miles west and 55 minutes by ferry across Puget Sound from Seattle, since the 1890’s Bremerton has been a Navy town, home to a major shipyard and base. 571 housing units were built at Westpark in the 1940’s to house workers at the shipyard. Converted after the war to public housing, they were expected to last for 20 years. In fact, they’d provide affordable housing to Bremerton families for almost 70.
Critical to the Authority’s plans was HUD’s HOPE VI public housing revitalization rant program, first authorized by Congress in 1999, to help local housing authorities replace aging, dilapidated public housing. By the time HOPE VI ended in 2010, it had competitively awarded $6.3 billion to revitalized more than 260 public housing communities. Bremerton won its $20 million HOPE VI in 2008, one of the smallest housing authorities ever awarded a HOPE VI grant.
It wasted no time getting to work. Almost immediately, it began to demolish or, as The Seattle Times reported, “deconstruct” Westpark’s 571 worn-out, wood-frame units, generating some 34,000 tons of construction debris, a “whopping 93 percent” of which, The Kitsap Sun said, would be recycled. “If it’s economically feasible,” explained Authority executive director Kurt Wiest, “this is waste that shouldn’t go to waste.”
As that work begun, work was almost complete on The Summit, 83 units of affordable housing for families, and work was underway on Bay Vista West and Bev Vista South, another almost 140 units for families. And, thanks to Federal low-income housing tax credits from the Washington Housing Finance Commission and a Section 202 elderly housing grant from HUD, earlier this summer American Baptist Homes of the West and Beacon Development Corporation broke ground for the 81-unit Bay Vista Senior Housing Apartments.
It was a big day for the Authority. In its application for HUD HOPE VI funds to transform Westpark into Bay Vista the Authority promised to replace every single one of the units torn down. When Bay Vista Senior Apartments opens its doors next year, that promise will have been kept and the finish line has come into view.
But there’s still work to do. Like everywhere else, the Great Recession took a bit out of the Authority’s efforts to promote homeownership, a big part of the Bay Vista plan. But that’s changing, with new homes under development on 27 parcels. Neighborhood retail’s also taking root. WinCo opened a supermarket late last year and construction of Kitsap Credit Union branch is about to start. And the upgrade of the 7 acre Bay Vista preserve is close to completion.
“We’ve come a very long way,” says the Authority’s Wiest. “Things haven’t always gone exactly or as quickly as planned. But given all the progress we’ve made and the new neighborhood the people of Bremerton have built, we’re confident we’re just around the corner from achieving what we set out to do – and more. If, as some say, “Bremerton’s back,” our work at Bay Vista has had a lot to do with it.”
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