The Gristle

Home Run

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

HOME RUN: In a year punctuated with a significant increase in local property tax to meet the state requirement to fully fund basic education, Bellingham City Council this week fretted over renewing the Home Fund on the November ballot. Yet few local taxes have had a more profound impact, or produced greater immediate success, on a matter of the public urgency than the Home Fund.

Enacted by city voters in 2012, the Bellingham Home Found generates about $3 million per year through a dedicated property tax. For every $1 raised by the Home Fund levy, an average of $8 of other private and public funding is leveraged for housing affordability initiatives.

That’s helped enable the addition of 405 completed affordable housing units and another 183 units that are under contract to be built. At a levy rate of up to .36 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the renewed Home Fund could generate up to $4 million for affordable housing for the 10-year duration of the levy.

The levy is set to sunset in 2019, but the mayor proposes placing an update on the project this year to keep in place uninterrupted the funding for constructions that are underway and for others that are planned. If the levy fails, those projects stall or die.

“It has to pass, because it must pass. Because without it, we don’t have a lot of options,” Council member Gene Knutson commented.

But—the question is well worth asking—is $4 million enough? And of all the efforts large and small, dramatic and modest, is $4 million the best target voters can aim toward to address what’s widely understood as the city’s existential crisis?

In other words, given sufficient public support, might the Home Fund be empowered to do more?

In 2017, the City of Bellingham surveyed residents about critical issues facing the community. Overwhelmingly, residents cited housing affordability and homelessness (and their adjunct, economic insecurity) as the city’s most pressing concerns.

Currently, the the Bellingham Housing Authority—tasked with providing housing for low-income households—reports a waiting list of as many as 1,181 households waiting to receive assistance. The wait time for placement for those on the list is nearly a year.

Over the term of the proposed levy, the city projects the construction of 580 affordable homes and rental assistance for 3,000 low-income households. Largely unaddressed, though, is the large cohort of younger, lower-income working-class households that do not qualify for public assistance housing, and yet their incomes are increasingly gobbled up by rising rents. And no one is building new housing for this so-called “gig economy.”

“The composition of Bellingham’s population today is not well matched to our existing housing stock,” staff admitted in the update to the Consolidated Plan approved by Council this week, a document required to qualify for future block grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for community development and affordable housing needs.

“Of all the housing units in Bellingham,” planning staff reported, “46 percent have three or more bedrooms, while the average number of people per housing unit is 2.17.

“The average family size and number of persons per household has steadily declined over time, and therefore has increased demand for smaller units like one-bedroom and studio apartments,” staff continued. “Today only 16 percent of housing units have one bedroom. Coupled with the slowdown in housing production that has not kept pace with population growth in general, this has resulted in a very low rental vacancy rate (estimated at 1.79 percent) and rapidly rising rents.

“Even as population growth continued, the development of new housing units slowed significantly between 2007 and 2013 during the Great Recession,” staff noted. “While the production of new units has accelerated since 2013, this has not yet alleviated preexisting demand or affordability challenges. For example, the population has risen by 3,140 since 2015 to a total of 86,720 residents. Meanwhile, there were 1,267 new units permitted in 2015 and 2016 combined.”

This is a problem that extends well beyond the city limits and affects Whatcom County as a whole, driving up rents and home prices, creating a collision with stagnant wages and fixed incomes..

The solution, Mayor Kelli Liville suggests, would be a countywide Home Fund levy that could generate a much larger pool of resources of all county communities. But there is little hope of the larger county picking up that task any time soon.

“There are four basic principles that motivate us to act in support of the Home Fund,” Greg Winter, executive director of the Opportunity Council, outlined to Council. “Everyone should be able to live in a safe, decent, affordable home. it should be possible for low-wage workers, veterans, senior citizens and people with disabilities to afford housing and still have enough money for the basics like groceries and child care. Children deserve a chance to succeed in school and in life, which all begins with their family being able to afford a decent place to live. And finally, it’s better for society, the environment and families if people can afford to live close to where they work.

“We can add other motivations, including the fact that the city has determined through surveying its residents that housing and homelessness are top priorities for action,” Winter said, citing the enormous deliverable success of the levy to date, exceeding its original goals, as evidence it should be renewed.

It should be renewed. But the Council should welcome a discussion that it might do even more.

Arsenio
Past Columns
Thin Green Line

June 26, 2019

A Journeyman’s Journey

June 12, 2019

Her Story

June 5, 2019

Do Overs

May 29, 2019

E Pluribus Unum

May 15, 2019

The Millworks

May 8, 2019

State of the County

May 1, 2019

A Change in Climate

April 24, 2019

The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019

Dragged

April 10, 2019

Edge City

April 3, 2019

Fixing the Fix

March 27, 2019

Halfway Houses

March 20, 2019

New Directions

March 13, 2019

Fire and Ice

March 6, 2019

The Big Short

February 27, 2019

Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Events
Today
Community Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

4:00pm|Vanier Park

Scrubs Camp

8:30am|Bellingham Technical College

Perspectives from the Port

11:30am| Northwood Hall

Wellness Wednesdays

12:00pm|Skagit Riverwalk Plaza

Wednesday Farmers Market

2:00pm|Barkley Village Green

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Backdoor to Baker

6:30pm|Prime Sports Institute

Brewers Cruise

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Thomas Harris and Kevin Woods Quintet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Summer Funny

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Village Books
Tomorrow
Community Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Blues and Brews

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Community Pint Night for Planned Parenthood

6:00pm

Fiction Writing Group

6:00pm|Village Books

Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Elizabeth Park

Incognito

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Joe and Carol Young

6:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Life Between the Pages Dinner Book Club

6:30pm|Evolve Chocolate + Cafe

Mediterranean Mezzes

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

James and the Giant Peach

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Nunsense

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Good, Bad, Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

House Concert with Yogoman and Bongo Jac

7:30pm|Chuckanut Center

Ajax

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Village Books Trove Web
Friday
Community Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Nunsense

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

James and the Giant Peach

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Marine Park

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

2:00pm|1750 LaBounty Dr.

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Orca Month Kayak Tour

5:30pm|Waypoint Park

Harper&I Dance presents Through the Decades

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Briseis

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Writer's Block, PainProv

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Comedy Benefit for Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood

9:00pm|The Shakedown

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