Early in 2007, Bellingham Mayor Tim Douglas and County Executive Pete Kremen appointed a Countywide Housing Affordability Task Force (CHAT) to develop and present action strategies and programs to address the anticipated need for 11,000 additional housing units by the year 2022 that are affordable to household earning 80% or less of the county median income. After more than 40 meetings, the 12 member Task Force presented their recommendations late in 2008.
The following goals, not listed in rank order, are actions that the Task Force felt were fundamental to the success of housing solutions and should be implemented as soon as possible.
- Codify housing action plan organizations – In order to effectively implement and monitor progress on the action items, a permanent housing action plan committee was recommended.
- Create an Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) – This fund would provide financing necessary to meet the funding gaps.
- Strive to reduce land and building costs – Adopt performance based design standards, planned unit developments, infill developments and transfer of development rights. Adopt measures that reduce labor and material costs, including performance based building codes and manufactured/modular design standards. Adopt measures that reduce infrastructure development costs, including low impact site development standards.
- Provide incentives for the creation of affordable housing – Stimulate the development of new affordable rental and for sale housing units through incentive-based and cash-based cost offsets. Examples include providing additional housing units or reduced parking requirements in exchange for affordable housing units, or expedited permit review, impact fee or utility connection fee reductions in exchange for affordable housing units.
- Retain older housing stock – These units constitute a large portion of the existing affordable housing supply, and should be retained through grants, no or low interest loans or land trusts.
- Retain and replace mobile and manufactured homes – These units also constitute a significant portion of the existing affordable housing supply, especially within the unincorporated county.
Progress on CHAT Recommendations
The following is a summary of city actions relating to the CHAT recommendations:
- Implementation organization – The Whatcom Housing Advisory Committee is an existing countywide committee that includes Bellingham representation. This committee would be the primary vehicle for implementing the overall recommendations of CHAT.
- Funds to implement the plan – The City cooperated with the City of Ferndale to use Whatcom County Economic Development Investment (EDI) funds to pay impact fees and utility connection fees for affordable housing projects. City funding is limited to federal entitlement funds (CDBG and HOME), which are available for qualified projects and limited planning and administration.
- Retain existing affordable housing stock – The City continues to support the Home Rehabilitation Program and the first-time homebuyer program of Kulshan Community Land Trust with federal housing funds. The Opportunity Council also has funds available for unincorporated areas for housing rehabilitation and weatherization.
- Incentives for affordable housing – The City adopted the Infill Housing Toolkit in 2009, and expanded the multi-unit tax exemption program in the City Center, Samish and Fountain Urban Villages in 2010. Density bonus incentives were included in Old Town Master Plan and the Samish Way Urban Village plan. The City has inventoried city-owned surplus properties and continue assessment of how those parcels could benefit affordable housing.
Contact the Community Development Division for more information.