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.

Alan Doyle
Past Columns
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

Refocusing the Narrative

January 29, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Unstable by Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Silent Sky

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Tulip Festival Street Fair

10:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

Spring Book Sale

10:00am|Fire Station #1

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Buffett Beach Bash

7:30pm|Anacortes Port Transit Shed

The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Tulip Pedal Bike Ride

7:30am|La Conner Elementary School

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

COB Earth Day Work Party

9:00am|Fairhaven Park

Fun with the Fuzz

9:00am|Bellingham Police Department

Bellingham Bay Bocce Tournament

9:30am|Bellingham Sportsplex

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Kiwanis Kids Egg Hunt

10:00am|Maiben Park

Cedar Dust Trail Ride and Party

10:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Plant Sale and Easter Events

10:00am|BelleWood Acres

Community Easter Egg Hunt

11:30am|Bellingham at Orchard

Obrigado Wines Tasting

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Jesse Otero Art Talk

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

Splinter Ideas, Halibut on the Moon

4:00pm|Village Books

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Skagit Valley College Drag Show

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Problem Child and Ten Miles Wide

8:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Blue collar comedy in Edison

8:00pm

Salsa Night

9:00pm|Cafe Rumba

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Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Tulip Festival Street Fair

10:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Plant Sale and Easter Events

10:00am|BelleWood Acres

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Egg Hunt and Easter Brunch

10:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Barkley Village Egg Hunts

11:00am|Barkley Village

Easter Brunch

11:00am|Ciao Thyme Commons

Nina Gerber and Chris Webster

2:00pm|Nancy's Farm

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Monday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Earth Day Sustainable Food Fair

11:00am|Viking Union 565

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

4:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Before the Flood

5:30pm|Pickford Film Center

Women's Backpacking Round Table Discussion

5:30pm|REI

Swing Dancing Classes

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Healthy Desserts

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Student Poetry & Art Showcase

6:30pm|Burlington Public Library

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

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