Pathways to Homeownership
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Another rent hike. Another move. Another school system.
Another family—maybe yours—is pushed farther out of town, and farther from jobs, stores, healthcare services, public transportation and higher education opportunities.
This narrative has become a standard in Whatcom County. It started as the norm for our low-income families and is now becoming the norm for our middle-income families as well.
Perhaps a move improves cash flow with lower rent. Or perhaps, once you factor in a new commute, it’s a wash. Either way, every time Bellingham’s lack of affordable housing options forces out another family, our community experiences a cumulative, tangible loss.
Housing instability bleeds dysfunction into every corner of our lives.
Economically displacing workers creates sprawl, increases traffic and pollution, and decreases job security. Children lose friends, educational momentum and access to healthy, social after-school activities. In many cases, these losses—especially if repeated in patterns over time—not only set children up for behavioral, emotional and health difficulties, but also increase the probability that they will rely on government assistance as they enter adulthood.
The inadequate supply of Whatcom County homes in the $125,000 to $300,000 price range keeps average wage earners in the rental market long past when they should be able to purchase a home. This means people attempting to move from homelessness, transitional housing or subsidized housing to long-term, unsubsidized rental housing, are competing with neighbors who have enough income and resources to own a home, as well as (generally) more stable jobs and stronger credit histories.
The bloated Whatcom County renter population creates a completely unfair uphill battle for folks attempting these critical transitions and the organizations supporting them. And it impacts renters, rental agencies and property owners too. It places tremendous pressure on the rental market, which is not positioned to both solve homelessness and house folks who should be able to own homes.
Owning your own home within reasonable commuting distance to work has become a pipe dream for many residents of Whatcom County.
“Even if you find a home under $435,000 and have the whopping $80,000 down payment ready to go,” explains Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County Executive Director John Moon, “your income still needs to be over $73,000 per year to afford the mortgage. In a single-earner household, that’s an hourly wage of $35 per hour.”
The vast majority of employees, especially those working for family-owned, locally run businesses, have no chance of achieving such a high wage.
Expanding a business in this climate is even more difficult. How can local businesses grow and thrive, if they are unable to attract new talent? Can they even retain their current talent? How can developers and contractors bring in construction crews? How do we spur economic growth if new build projects are dead-ended by worker housing costs?
Solutions for average wage earners, their families and their children:
For families, affordable homeownership price points would mean stable, long-term living costs and an ability to build wealth through their home’s equity, as well as improved outcomes in health and education.
If homeownership were available to average wage earners in Whatcom County, they would be able to begin moving along a “Housing Continuum.” Hardworking families able to buy a home would move out of the rental market, creating space for those living in subsidized or transitional housing to move to long-term rentals, and freeing up more of our community’s supportive resources for those currently living on the streets.
New developments would increase economic activity for suppliers, subcontractors, real estate agents and title companies. Increased stability would mean more businesses would be able to retain employees, attract new talent and expand. More homeowners means more taxpayers and more community assets. Innovation, opportunity and security for all of our residents would increase. Whatcom County, as a whole, could reach its full potential.
Sarah Bond-Yancey is the communications manager for Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County. Learn more about homeownership pathways, local impacts and ways to get involved at http://www.hfhwhatcom.org/pathways.