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Meet Eric Bjella, director of NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor

In last week’s blog, longtime executive director of NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor, Dave Murnen, did a gracious job of introducing me, Eric Bjella (pronounced like B-yella) as the new executive director for this organization.

From now on I will be joining Pat Beaty, construction specialist, in writing this blog that started as a weekly column that has been ongoing weekly since 1999!

Before sharing some of my hopes and ambitions for this organization, let me say a few words about Dave. May 31 was Dave’s last day after 32 years with this nonprofit housing organization, spending the last 15 years as executive director. He has been coaching me during a month-long overlap for transition and is ready to actively enjoy his next chapter!

It’s the people!

While “the people” is often the easy answer to why you want to work somewhere, when it comes to working at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor, it really is the truth. Even before joining the board of NeighborWorks, I had the pleasure of working with Dave and his staff.

At one time, because of my position at the Bank of the Pacific, I participated in the Paint the Corridor project. This great project introduced me to Dave and the team at NeighborWorks.

Although it’s now been 10 years since the last Paint the Corridor effort, the effect can still be seen and felt in Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

In addition, because Bank of the Pacific has financially supported the financial education and other programs provided by NeighborWorks for many years, I had more opportunities to work with Dave as a guest expert on some strategic planning committee meetings needing my skillsets.

I am grateful that Dave and his staff have continued to build this organization on such a solid foundation in every way. That, and all the partnerships made with a variety of organizations, businesses and people throughout the community keeps this organization on a course for continued success of fulfilling our mission.

And just because it’s good to repeat from time to time, I’d like to reiterate just what our mission is! The Mission of NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County is to develop partnerships in the community between business, government, and residents to create safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Looking ahead

I’m looking forward to the personal challenge of learning the intricacies of all the programs available at NeighborWorks. I also want to apply my marketing background increasing the ways we share our programs and information with potential clients.

After 42 years in this county, we still hear that people don’t know exactly what we do, in spite of our numerous community outreach outlets! For example, one of the things I think many people don’t realize is that there are programs available for those who are working, but can’t quite meet banking requirements for financing an owner-occupied home rehab or a home purchase or even a home purchase with rehab.

Most people find us through word-of-mouth referrals from friends, lenders and realtors, not to mention this blog, our county-wide newspaper column and radio appearances which is all great, but it’s not enough.

We’d really like to figure out how to expand our reach into every nook and corner of this county by outreaching of our local partner organizations, and every realtor, loan officer, code inspector, and employer. We are a community resource that supports homebuyers, homeowners and renters when other institutions will not.

So, we’re going to figure out every alternative way available to share our services and get the word out we are here to help find housing solutions.

Housing Issues

Important housing issues are facing Grays Harbor right now. It has become increasingly difficult for our clients to find homes to purchase or rent in a price range they can afford. On top of that, outside investors have been paying cash for properties, which is driving the prices even higher. It will get worse!

Institutional investors are purchasing houses to build a large rental pool. It is happening nationwide. When an entity owns enough properties, they can control the rental prices in every market they choose, like ours!

Individual homebuyers that are not loan ready are at a distinct disadvantage competing for homes in this market. I will be looking at ways to make our loan process at NeighborWorks faster and more efficient.

Plans for NeighborWorks

While I don’t have any particular major new plans for the organization now, the organization will soon hold its three-year strategic planning session. The board will look at this affordable housing crisis and much more. NeighborWorks’ planning begins with understanding our current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. From there we will develop an operating plan that addresses the best opportunities identified.

Reach out for help

I invite Grays Harbor residents to reach out and ask if there is a way we might be able to help them improve their housing situation. Feel free to give us a call at (360) 533-7828.


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