City Action on Global Climate
Want to support the Paris agreement? Improve housing policy
What: Town Hall on Affordable Housing
Where: Bellingham High School Auditorium, 2020 Cornwall Ave.
Panel discussion and public comments with Bellingham City Council present
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord last week is a betrayal of our planet and our children’s future. Bolivian president Evo Morales said it best: “Retiring from the Paris agreement is high treason to Mother Earth, which is the common house of life and humanity.”
Trump’s actions are a misguided throwback to the economy of decades past. How can Bellingham respond with leadership on protecting our climate?
We are already seeing a groundswell of resistance from states and cities. The governors of Washington, California, and New York announced they will be forming the United States Climate Alliance to continue to follow the Paris Accord. One hundred eighty U.S. mayors, representing 51 million Americans, issued a statement affirming they will “uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.” They finished their statement, “The world cannot wait — and neither will we.”
We agree. As young people in our 20s, we are deeply worried about the current trajectory toward catastrophic warming. If we have kids, we’d like them to grow up in a safe world and have a chance to experience the many joys of the Pacific Northwest.
Bellingham should join these pledges, and hopefully will. But what do those pledges mean when it comes to concrete policy and action in our city?
According to our city’s Climate Action Plan, roughly 42 percent of our emissions come from transportation and 48 percent come from our buildings, half residential and half commercial.
Urban centers can drive solutions by doubling down on community planning that works for our climate: we need dense, bike/walkable, mixed-income neighborhoods served by transit to reduce emissions.
Bellingham home values have more than recovered from the recession, with recent median home sales reported at $356,000. A lack of construction during the downturn has left us with a supply deficit. While a boon to established homeowners, the steady increase in housing costs and rents is pricing working families out of Bellingham’s core neighborhoods. Rising rents are known to pair with an increase in homelessness rates.
Working- and middle-class residents are are being pushed out to more affordable areas, like Ferndale and Blaine. These residents then have to commute farther to work, driving up carbon emissions.
Although Bellingham’s laws discourage urban sprawl, it still occurs in the surrounding county. If we value our farmland, mountain biking at Galbraith and the natural beauty of our surroundings, we must allow for density.
There is growing demand among our generation, young families and seniors for “Missing Middle” housing: building forms between a detached home and a mid-rise—a middle option of density (cottage housing, townhouses, rowhouses, and mother-in-law units). Michael Maddux, Washington housing advocate expands, “[Missing Middle] allows for more families to live near great schools, parks and transit lines in places that are affordable, while maintaining tree canopy, having shared “yards” in many cases for kids to play or adults to read a book during the summer, and, best of all, typically very affordable compared to most other new construction.” Bellingham should allow for economically-diverse neighborhoods by ensuring each allows for some form of creative infill.
The EPA of a more level-headed administration was unequivocal about the need for dense neighborhoods served by transit to accomplish America’s climate goals. In a report released in 2011, “Location Efficiency and Housing Type: Boiling it Down to BTUs,” they determined the weighted average energy usage of a single detached home with a car for primary transport used 253 percent more energy than a multifamily home with transit access.
“Housing type is also a very significant determinant of energy consumption,” the study concluded. “Fairly substantial differences are seen in detached versus attached homes [i.e. rowhouses], but the most striking difference is the variation in energy use between single-family detached homes and multifamily homes, due to the inherent efficiencies from more compact size and shared walls among units.”
The climate crisis and affordable housing challenge are interlinked—as are the solutions.
Legalizing Missing Middle housing should be accompanied by a suite of complementary climate policies including increased investment in public transit, energy efficiency requirements for buildings, eliminating minimum parking requirements and investing in renewable energy.
If Trump intended to forestall progress on climate change, he may have just done the opposite. We know Bellingham cares deeply about protecting future generations, the climate and the environment. This community has been proactive in honoring the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights and stopping increased fossil fuel exports at Cherry Point. We can build on this legacy with decisions here in our backyard to reduce our transportation and housing-related emissions.
We urge our fellow neighbors to come together to address the linked issues of housing affordability and climate change by asking our city leaders to support dense, walkable, mixed-income neighborhoods with transit access.
Our community has been doing an excellent job saying “no” to fossil fuel projects. Now, more than ever, we hope the community is ready to say “yes” to solutions for a low carbon city.
Galen Herz is the Vice President of Students for Renewable Energy. Kurt Price is the chair of the Young Democrats of Whatcom County. To learn more about Missing Middle housing, http://missingmiddlehousing.com/ is an excellent resource.
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