The Washington State Housing Finance Commission (WSHFC) has assisted 57,000 families become first-time homebuyers and supported the development of 118,000 affordable multifamily housing units since its creation in 1983, and Kim Herman has been there for each one.

Kim Herman
Kim Herman

Originally appointed as a board member and then hired to lead the state housing agency in 1984, Herman is the only executive director that WSHFC has known. Through shifting economic conditions and evolving business programs, he has been a steady and powerful force for affordable housing in Washington and nationally.

“I think what I’ve brought to the Commission is the ability to tell the story about why we need affordable housing in the state of Washington and why the Commission can deliver that affordable housing,” says Herman, the dean of state housing finance agency (HFA) executives.

His message is powerful: Housing is the base for people to have a good life.

“If you don’t have a good place to live, how can you hold down a job? How can you get your kids ready for school? How can you maintain a healthy lifestyle?” he says. “If you don’t have a good solid base, you can’t do these things.”

Herman has also skillfully organized a nimble agency that is able to react to new opportunities. “Things change constantly, and we have to be responsive to the market in order to continue to produce housing,” he says. “We’ve evolved over the years. It makes it fascinating because every two or three years you’re moving into new programs, learning new skills.”

It’s a lesson that came early. Not long after WSHFC was established, Congress created the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program. State leaders first turned to another agency to oversee the new program in Washington but were told that it would take about two years to get it going. Herman and WSHFC had been closely monitoring the progress of the LIHTC and had a draft plan in the works. They said they could implement the program within six months, so they were given the opportunity to allocate LIHTCs for the first three years, after which time state leaders would evaluate the Commission’s performance. Herman and WSHFC did such a good job, they continue to administer the LIHTC program today.

Over the years, they’ve also been adept at utilizing tax-exempt bonds to meet the various needs of people in the state, including financing first-time homeownership, multifamily apartments, senior housing communities, energy conservation, and helping beginning farmers and ranchers buy land under a program that was aimed at the Midwest, but WSHFC was able to bring it to the West Coast.

“I can think of few people in Washington state or anywhere else in the country who have done as much for affordable housing as Kim Herman,” says Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who has led federal efforts to expand the LIHTC program. “Kim was right there with us as we fought for and secured the first increase of the LIHTC in more than a decade. He has been a tireless advocate and a steadfast ally in the fight for more affordable housing resources.”

Herman, who once thought he would become a teacher, has been a key resource of many in the state.

“Kim is extraordinarily committed to expanding access to affordable homes—both for renters and hopeful homebuyers,” says Rachael Myers, executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. “He is one of the original founders of the Housing Alliance and has served as our unofficial historian for much longer than I’ve known him. His knowledge of housing finance and policy is unmatched, and I am extraordinarily grateful to him for sharing his wisdom and housing expertise.”

A strong presence

Herman’s influence extends beyond Washington’s borders. He’s been a national presence through several industry organizations, serving as a past president and current vice president of the National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA).

“He has been one of the executive director leaders of various NCSHA efforts to develop recommended practices in the administration of the LIHTC program,” says Stockton Williams, executive director of the Council. These endeavors have led to the strengthening of LIHTC administration.

While Herman has come to be closely associated with WSHFC, his experience in affordable housing goes back even further.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1960s, Herman helped build schools and agricultural access in the Dominican Republic. When he was nearing the end of his service, he began looking at the “Greensheet,” a publication that listed job openings in community programs that were part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.

He applied for posts in affordable housing because of his Peace Corps experience and he had helped his father build a lake cabin and make home improvements. Herman ended up working as a rural housing developer in Warrenton, Va., for two years before moving to Mississippi to establish the Delta Housing Development Corp., a nonprofit self-help housing organization, and then working for the Rural Housing Alliance in Washington, D.C.

“He comes from a long-running commitment to housing in some of the most challenging parts of the country,” says Williams.

Eventually, Herman made his way back to his hometown of Spokane, Wash., where he joined the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was undertaking a demonstration program to see how it could work better in rural areas. He’s also served as executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Yakima (Wash.) and as manager of the single-family housing rehabilitation programs for the Portland Development Commission in Oregon.

All these experiences led him to WHSFC, which began as a one-man shop. “I moved into an office in downtown Seattle with a chair and a box of materials and opened the office,” recalls Herman, who has three sons and three granddaughters. “I had to wait until my desk was delivered about a week later.”

Back in the early days, it was a dream to finance 10,000 homes. WSHFC, which has grown to a team of 78, has long blown by that number and continues to help more families each year.

“Working in affordable housing has been a wonderful lifetime career. The fact that I was able to get into it has been a wonderful opportunity,” says Herman. “It’s so rewarding to think back about all the people who’ve been able to get into their own home and a good housing situation. It’s the most fulfilling thing I think I could have ever done.”