The Gristle

A Perfect Storm

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A PERFECT STORM: The City of Bellingham released its 2017 community survey this week, a comprehensive report produced in collaboration with demographers at Western Washington University that attempts to capture residents’ views about issues facing the city. The survey polled about 7,000 residents through a combination of phone and web-based responses.

The good news, ’hamsters are extremely positive about the overall quality of life in Bellingham. Ninety-four percent of poll respondents rated that factor good to excellent in the survey, with only two respondents in the entire survey finding the quality of life poor.

The bad news, residents see a trifecta of economic insecurity, housing insecurity and homelessness as threats and erosion to that sense of civic well-being. Survey respondents ranked them in reverse order—with 55 percent finding homelessness the primary problem facing the city; 43 percent believe housing affordability is an emergent crisis; and 28 percent selected growth and economic development as a paramount concern—but one cascades from the other, and all are intertwined. Some are in collision:

“Historically, there has been a negative trend concerning respondents’ views of the job the city is doing to plan for future growth overall, encourage economic development, and stimulate business growth,” demographers at WWU’s Center for Economic and Business Research noted in their report. “This year, only 30 percent of respondents rate the city’s efforts planning for growth as excellent or good, compared to a 36 percent positive response rate in 2013, 38 percent in 2010, and 33 percent in 2008. Additionally, many respondents think there is room to grow when it comes to the city’s efforts encouraging economic development and business growth.”

Housing affordability is rated as the second most important challenge facing Bellingham.

“The current ratings of housing affordability have dropped significantly since 2013,” the report authors note, a watermark escalation of a trend that tracks with rising homelessness like a hand fits a glove. “The decline in housing affordability is reflected throughout the state. In Washington State, median sales price rose to $331,100 in the Third Quarter of 2016, a 13.2 percent increase from a year before. In Whatcom County, median sales price sits at $316,900, an 8.5 percent increase from the year before,” according to the University of Washington’s Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies.

“Meaningful and sustainable employment is the key to creating and maintaining housing stability,” researchers at the National Coalition for the Homeless report. “Unemployment, underemployment, and low wages relative to rent are frequent causes of homelessness and burden millions of families with the risk of becoming homeless.

“The lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs contributes to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. This deficit of affordable housing has led to high rent burdens, overcrowding, and substandard housing, which has not only forced many people to become homeless but has also put a growing number of people at risk of becoming homeless.”

The very visibility of homelessness and its unsightly, destabilizing impacts to Bellingham’s commercial centers and parks are perhaps factors that drive the issue to the top of the list of residents’ concerns about a diminished quality of life.

“The issue of homelessness is heavily present throughout survey responses,” Western Center researchers reported. “Respondents rank homelessness as the most important challenge facing Bellingham. Additionally, hundreds of responses to open-end questions discuss the challenge of homelessness in Bellingham in depth.”

When asked what positive changes respondents would make as a city leader, “solve homelessness” is mentioned more than any other topic. But residents aren’t ignorant about the form of those solutions, citing job creation, response to affordability, and improvement to public health care (including mental health care) in their list of policy directives leaders should pursue.

Notably absent were suggestions that the criminal justice system is the appropriate venue to address issues related to homelessness; however, “respondents report feeling less safe downtown during the day and night than in any previous survey,” Western Center authors note. Notably, only 8 percent of respondents report feeling extremely safe walking alone downtown at night. While 46 percent do feel somewhat safe, 30 percent feel not very safe, and 17 percent feel not at all safe.

“The United States did not always have such a dire lack of affordable housing,” researchers at the National Coalition for the Homeless note. “The 1970s into the 1980s saw drastic cuts to federal affordable housing programs. Today, there is much focus on creating permanent supportive housing for people who chronically experience homelessness due to disability or health issues. But building affordable housing takes too long in most cities because of political foot-dragging, municipal agency delays, and the painstaking process of raising money from multiple sources. As a result, affordable housing is not being built at a pace fast enough to end homelessness.”

As in a perfect storm, where two rising weather systems collide into the cataclysmic energy of a third, Bellingham home prices recovered much more quickly from the recession of 2007—approaching their highs at moment of implosion of the housing bubble that precipitated the crash—than did the economic indicators that might persuade lenders to advance the finances to purchase those homes. Employment has mostly returned to pre-recession levels, but the nature of those jobs and the wages they pay have changed. Gone is the assurance of stable, career employment. And fully 70 percent of the chronically unsheltered on the streets of Bellingham formerly held a local address, according to surveys by the Opportunity Council’s Homeless Service Center and the City of Bellingham’s Homeless Outreach Team. They’re, in the main, not coming from elsewhere—they were already here and, by a constellation of reasons, displaced.

In sum, the community survey verifies concerns already known and catalogued, and for that is valuable reference and reinforcement.

“The people of Bellingham care deeply about our city,” Mayor Kelli Linville said, “and that was clear by the great feedback we received in this survey.”

Past Columns
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A Rising Tide

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The Power of Change

September 4, 2019

Hands Against Hate

August 28, 2019

Ground Zero

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Fire and Frost

August 14, 2019

The Fury and the Folly

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Due East II

July 31, 2019

The Real Social Network

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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

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Events
Today
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Singin' in the Rain, Jr.

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Tuesdays with Morrie and On Approval

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

And Then There Were None

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Student warriors march for climate justice

9:00am

Skagit County Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Voter Registration Event

11:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

2:00pm|1750 LaBounty Dr.

Whatcom Museum Tag Sale

5:00pm|Syre Education Center

Open Mic Night

6:00pm|Deming Library

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

The Cody Rivers Show presents Baderson

6:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

The mystery and the mania

7:00pm

Trivia Night Fundraiser

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Downriver

7:00pm|Village Books

Edgar Allan

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Godlike

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Miss Fitts

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Improv Evolution

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Tomorrow
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Singin' in the Rain, Jr.

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

And Then There Were None

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Tuesdays with Morrie and On Approval

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Skagit County Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Museum Tag Sale

5:00pm|Syre Education Center

The Cody Rivers Show presents Baderson

6:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Godlike

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Miss Fitts

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Improv Evolution

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Hamster Endurance Runs

8:00am|Lake Padden

Giant Pumpkin Festival and Weigh-Off

9:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market2333

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

Mindful Meditation and Combining Food Wisely

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live!

10:00am

Boating Center Fall Hours

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Purls & Pop-Ups Yarn Crawl

10:00am|Whatcom County

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Your Life is a Story Writer's Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Persistence of Light

10:30am|Lynden Library

Backyard Fairies

11:00am|North Fork Library

Cemetery Tours

11:00am|Lynden Cemetery

One Planet

11:00am|Peace Arch Park

Fall Show Reception

2:00pm|River Gallery

Sedro-Woolley Brewfest

2:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Remembering Ella Higginson

3:00pm|Deming Library

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Gardening Rount Table

3:00pm|North Fork Library

Wayne Carter Book Signing

3:00pm|Upper Skagit Library

Artist talk with Drie Chapek

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

PechaKucha Night

5:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

International Day of Peace with WPJC

6:00pm|The Majestic

Homeless for a Night

6:00pm| Allen United Methodist Church

The Sound and the Glory

7:00pm|Village Books

Blue Abode Comedy Show

7:00pm|Blue Abode Bar

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Modern Slavery

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Salsa Night

9:00pm|Cafe Rumba

Sunday
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Tuesdays with Morrie and On Approval

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

And Then There Were None

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Miss Fitts

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Hamster Endurance Runs

8:00am|Lake Padden

Boating Center Fall Hours

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Homeless for a Night

6:00pm| Allen United Methodist Church

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Oyster Run Motorcycle Rally

9:00am|Downtown Anacortes

Brunch on the Bay

10:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Bellingham Veg Fest

11:00am|Depot Market Square

Walk to End Alzheimer's

12:00pm|Riverwalk Plaza

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

George Winston

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

More than a piano man

2:00pm

Open Borders

4:00pm|Village Books

Skookum Rocks the Farm

7:00pm|Bellewood Acres

Seattle International Comedy Competition Audition Showcase

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »