The Gristle

Camp 210

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

CAMP 210: Camp 210 began as a noble experiment—the use of our most public space to focus public attention on a public problem, both locally and nationally: Homelessness. And whatever missteps the City of Bellingham may have made in its handling and dismantling of the ad hoc protest encampment at City Hall (and there appear to have been several), it was clear from the steady escalation in police reports—from occasional nuisance in November to serious assaults and social unrest by January—that the camp was ultimately doomed by the persistent bedfellows of homelessness: Untreated mental and behavioral health issues.

The under-told story at Camp 210 is that homelessness in Bellingham and Whatcom County has declined by about 8 percent over the past decade, thanks to financial instruments such as the Bellingham Home Fund and other public efforts. That morsel of success is almost certain to be snatched away through the lasting economic impacts of COVID. There is little cause for optimism that eviction rates and numbers of unhoused won’t skyrocket. The persistent bedfellows of untreated human and social health disorders will certainly complicate the solutions.

More money, more public revenue, is needed, and it needs to stretch further. However, if past is prologue and paralysis persists, very little of this assistance will arrive from federal sources and must instead arrive through creative public policy at the state and local levels.

We’ll suggest a couple of instruments:

Expand the enormously successful Bellingham Home Fund levy to include all of Whatcom County. This would add hundreds of millions of dollars of additional assessed property value to build tangible assets in the form of affordable and low-income homes that would benefit all county residents. Likely, that construction of a particular type would supercharge the local economy.

Approved by voters in 2012 and extended in 2018, the city’s lower-income housing levy is projected to generate $40 million in revenues through its extended ten-year term. Funds are dedicated to the production and preservation of scores of affordable homes, as well as rental assistance and homebuyer support services.

A countywide levy would more than double this capacity, and frankly the only thing preventing county voters from considering such a levy is the political will of Whatcom County Council to place such a proposal on the fall ballot.

To stretch this revenue further—and indeed to prevent it from evaporating in the event of economic collapse from COVID—local governments must pursue public banking initiatives. With a surplus of Democratic lawmakers in Olympia this session, the possibility of public banks draws near.

Senate Bill 5188 was introduced into that body’s Business, Financial Services & Trade Committee  last week that would allow local governments to explore public banking options. The concept, long championed by Sen. Bob Hasegawa of south Seattle’s 11th Legislative District, is cosponsored by Anacortes Sen. Liz Lovelett, among others.

“While local governments successfully borrow for infrastructure and economic development capital projects through private sector lenders and the bond markets, other government entities do not have the same access to capital at attractive rates to be used in building out public infrastructure,” the bill sponsors note in the text of the proposal.

“A cooperative Washington state public bank would provide opportunities for state, local, and tribal government entities to competitively finance a broad array of public infrastructure and economic development projects, including housing, at competitive rates with low administrative costs,” the bill sponsors assert. “A cooperative state public bank will complement the existing banking system by filling gaps that the [current] system cannot or will not fill.”

If formed, the Washington public bank would handle state and local tax revenue and could leverage the core of the state’s equity to benefit Washingtonians. Over time, a public bank would establish independence from Wall Street banks and commercial lenders.

After California approved its version of a public banking act in 2019, the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco announced plans to establish their own public banks. To date, more than 25 public banking concepts are circulating in state legislatures around the country.

The reason, Hasegawa has noted in presentations to local governments, is that a state bank can provide enormous financing capacity for public projects without having to sell bonds through Wall Street brokers at commercial interest rates. Repayment of those interest rates steeply cuts into public revenues—our local tax dollars are being shoveled into the pockets of distant lenders.

“While the rest of the world uses public banking as their financing foundation, we in the U.S. have relied on commercial banking instead,” he explains. “We need to find a better way. We simply don’t have enough money to keep going into debt to Wall Street to fund projects in the public interest.”

In the event of a collapse in Wall Street’s fortunes, a public bank could provide an alternative source of capital to keep projects and public goals moving forward.

Public banks’ mission to serve the public interest allows them to extend financing to projects other banks won’t consider, and their internal controls allow them to lend money to local governments for public projects at interest rates far below those of other banks. Indeed, if Bellingham’s financial capacity had not been tied to international banking fortunes in the last economic downturn of 2007, the city might have had snatched up scores of acres of sharply discounted properties as holders and lenders cratered, and access to capital to keep the construction industry working through that downturn building or renovating affordable homes.

This is an initiative our state legislators in Olympia now have the numbers to approve. They should be encouraged to do so, as we use our public space to focus public attention on public problems.

Past Columns
‘Stop The Steal’

February 17, 2021

A capricious flower

January 20, 2021

‘More Work To Do’

January 6, 2021

Pathways for Pathogens

December 23, 2020

Make A Difference

December 9, 2020

Down to the Wire

November 25, 2020

Blue Wave 2020

November 11, 2020

Dark Deeds

October 28, 2020

Fire and Water

October 14, 2020

Defining Family

September 30, 2020

Smoke and Acrimony

September 16, 2020

Housing Saves Lives

September 2, 2020

Increments

August 19, 2020

In the Mail

August 5, 2020

Experience Matters

July 22, 2020

Momentum

July 8, 2020

Economic Snapshots

June 24, 2020

False Flags

June 10, 2020

Napoleons In Exile

May 27, 2020

Saturday
Undercover

11:00am

“Undercover,” an exhibition of butter dishes juried by Nikki Mizak, will be featured for the final week from 11am-5pm daily through Saturday, and 12pm-4pm Sunday at Good Earth Pottery, 1000…

Members Show and Art Challenge

11:00am

View an annual “Members Show” for the final week from 11am-4pm Tuesday through Saturday at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The exhibit features work up to 100 Allied Arts members in a variety…

Alfred Currier and Anne Schreivogl

11:00am

Oil paintings by Alfred Currier, acrylics from Anne Schreivogl, and oils by Patrizio will be featured from 11am-5pm Wednesday through Saturday through March 29 in Anacortes at Scott Milo…

Riding the Wind

11:00am

Michael Dickter’s “Riding the Wind” exhibit can be seen from 11am-6pm daily through Feb. 28 in Mount Vernon at Perry and Carlson Gallery, 504 S. First St. Face masks are required, and a…

From Where They Are

10:00am

Help raise funds for Fairhaven’s Firehouse Performing Arts Center by watching Kuntz and Company’s virtual performance of from where they are online as part of the Firehouse Studio. The focus…

A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:30am

Teens in grades 6-12 can submit their original writing for consideration in Whatcom County Library System’s annual poetry competition, “A Forest of Words,” through March 15. All styles of…

A World Well Traveled

12:00pm

“Max Benjamin: A World Well Traveled” can be seen from 12pm-4pm Thursdays through Sundays La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, 121 First St. The solo exhibit featuring the work of the…

Birdland

10:00am

Flock through Skagit Valley and view “Birdland” for the final weekend from 10am-5pm Friday through Sunday in Edison at Smith & Vallee Gallery, 5742 Gilkey Ave. The exhibit featuring feathered…

A Straw in the Wind

11:00am

Margy Lavelle’s “A Straw in the Wind” exhibit can be seen for the final week from 11am-4pm Friday through Sunday in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The gallery is also open by…

Little Women, the Musical

12:00pm

Ferndale High School Theatre presents virtual viewings of Little Women, the Musical that can be streamed anytime Friday through Sunday. Over the course of four months, the cast rehearsed in…

Hurt Village

7:30pm

Western Washington University’s College of Fine and Performing Arts concludes the second round of its New Works Play Reading Series at 7:30pm Friday and Saturday with live virtual readings of…

Bellingham Dockside Market

10:00am

Bellingham SeaFeast, the Port of Bellingham, and the Working Waterfront Coalition of Whatcom County have joined forces for a Bellingham Dockside Market taking place from 10am-2pm today at…

Watercolor Workshop with Molly Hashimoto

10:00am

From 10am-12:30pm, North Cascades Institute hosts a virtual workshop with painter Molly Hashimoto, “Green to Gold: Trees of the Cascades in Watercolor.” Fees are $50 and include a virtual…

Children's Literature Conference

10:00am

From 10am-11am and 2pm-3pm, attend a Day of Conversations as part of Western Washington University’s annual Children’s Literature Conference. A Virtual Exhibit, “Art as Protest/Art in the…

Street Law

10:00am

Law Advocates and Whatcom County Library System team up for Street Law today to offer free legal help for any civil law questions. Residents are able to attend virtual consultations with…

Stuff the Bus Food Drive

12:00pm

Helping Hands Food Bank and Skagit Transit will team up for a “Stuff the Bus” Food Drive taking place from 12pm-2pm in Burlington at the parking lot at Cascade Mall, 201 Cascade Mall Dr.…

Share Spot

12:00pm

Birchwood Food Desert Fighters hosts a Share Spot from 12pm-2pm Saturdays in the parking lot of the Industrial Credit Union, 3233 Northwest Ave. Thanks to a collaboration with the Miracle…

Bellingham Community Meal

12:30pm

Hot lunches in to-go containers will be provided as part of a monthly Bellingham Community Meal from 12:30pm-2:30pm at Assumption Gym, 2116 Cornwall Ave. Bellingham Community Meal has been in…

Virtual Comedy Open Mic

7:00pm

Bellingham Entertainment will be hosting virtual Comedy Open Mics from 7pm-9pm every Saturday until live events are allowed again. Each open mic will have eight performance spots and room for…

Sunday
Undercover

11:00am

“Undercover,” an exhibition of butter dishes juried by Nikki Mizak, will be featured for the final week from 11am-5pm daily through Saturday, and 12pm-4pm Sunday at Good Earth Pottery, 1000…

Members Show and Art Challenge

11:00am

View an annual “Members Show” for the final week from 11am-4pm Tuesday through Saturday at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The exhibit features work up to 100 Allied Arts members in a variety…

Alfred Currier and Anne Schreivogl

11:00am

Oil paintings by Alfred Currier, acrylics from Anne Schreivogl, and oils by Patrizio will be featured from 11am-5pm Wednesday through Saturday through March 29 in Anacortes at Scott Milo…

Riding the Wind

11:00am

Michael Dickter’s “Riding the Wind” exhibit can be seen from 11am-6pm daily through Feb. 28 in Mount Vernon at Perry and Carlson Gallery, 504 S. First St. Face masks are required, and a…

From Where They Are

10:00am

Help raise funds for Fairhaven’s Firehouse Performing Arts Center by watching Kuntz and Company’s virtual performance of from where they are online as part of the Firehouse Studio. The focus…

A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:30am

Teens in grades 6-12 can submit their original writing for consideration in Whatcom County Library System’s annual poetry competition, “A Forest of Words,” through March 15. All styles of…

A World Well Traveled

12:00pm

“Max Benjamin: A World Well Traveled” can be seen from 12pm-4pm Thursdays through Sundays La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, 121 First St. The solo exhibit featuring the work of the…

Birdland

10:00am

Flock through Skagit Valley and view “Birdland” for the final weekend from 10am-5pm Friday through Sunday in Edison at Smith & Vallee Gallery, 5742 Gilkey Ave. The exhibit featuring feathered…

A Straw in the Wind

11:00am

Margy Lavelle’s “A Straw in the Wind” exhibit can be seen for the final week from 11am-4pm Friday through Sunday in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The gallery is also open by…

Little Women, the Musical

12:00pm

Ferndale High School Theatre presents virtual viewings of Little Women, the Musical that can be streamed anytime Friday through Sunday. Over the course of four months, the cast rehearsed in…

Hurt Village

7:30pm

Western Washington University’s College of Fine and Performing Arts concludes the second round of its New Works Play Reading Series at 7:30pm Friday and Saturday with live virtual readings of…

Bellingham Dockside Market

10:00am

Bellingham SeaFeast, the Port of Bellingham, and the Working Waterfront Coalition of Whatcom County have joined forces for a Bellingham Dockside Market taking place from 10am-2pm today at…

Watercolor Workshop with Molly Hashimoto

10:00am

From 10am-12:30pm, North Cascades Institute hosts a virtual workshop with painter Molly Hashimoto, “Green to Gold: Trees of the Cascades in Watercolor.” Fees are $50 and include a virtual…

Children's Literature Conference

10:00am

From 10am-11am and 2pm-3pm, attend a Day of Conversations as part of Western Washington University’s annual Children’s Literature Conference. A Virtual Exhibit, “Art as Protest/Art in the…

Street Law

10:00am

Law Advocates and Whatcom County Library System team up for Street Law today to offer free legal help for any civil law questions. Residents are able to attend virtual consultations with…

Stuff the Bus Food Drive

12:00pm

Helping Hands Food Bank and Skagit Transit will team up for a “Stuff the Bus” Food Drive taking place from 12pm-2pm in Burlington at the parking lot at Cascade Mall, 201 Cascade Mall Dr.…

Share Spot

12:00pm

Birchwood Food Desert Fighters hosts a Share Spot from 12pm-2pm Saturdays in the parking lot of the Industrial Credit Union, 3233 Northwest Ave. Thanks to a collaboration with the Miracle…

Bellingham Community Meal

12:30pm

Hot lunches in to-go containers will be provided as part of a monthly Bellingham Community Meal from 12:30pm-2:30pm at Assumption Gym, 2116 Cornwall Ave. Bellingham Community Meal has been in…

Virtual Comedy Open Mic

7:00pm

Bellingham Entertainment will be hosting virtual Comedy Open Mics from 7pm-9pm every Saturday until live events are allowed again. Each open mic will have eight performance spots and room for…