City taking action on affordable housing

A​ffordable housing is an issue that faces everyone in our community at one time or another – from the young families who are first-time homebuyers trying to find a neighborhood home, to the students who are renting and trying to get through school, to the homeowner who wants to convert a garage to a mother-in-law … Read more

Aug 30, 2013 - by Mayor Kelli Linville

A​ffordable housing is an issue that faces everyone in our community at
one time or another – from the young families who are first-time homebuyers
trying to find a neighborhood home, to the students who are renting and
trying to get through school, to the homeowner who wants to convert a garage
to a mother-in-law unit. As someone who cares deeply about our high quality
of life in Bellingham, I have long advocated to help make Bellingham a place
where people can live, work, go to school and play. Affordable housing is an
important part of that.​

My parents built their Fairhaven home on the GI bill after World War II, and
without that help, it might not have been possible. I understand and support
that subsidized housing has a place in our community. We need to continue to
provide the right environment in our city to have a variety of housing
options to meet everyone’s needs – single family, multifamily, pocket
neighborhoods, subsidized and supported housing, and cottage housing all
have their place in a well-planned community.

Not all of these things can be provided by the City, but we can support
affordable housing in several ways. This summer, we’ve explored two
opportunities that the City can pursue to help provide affordable housing.
The first is revisiting the work done by the Countywide Housing
Affordability Taskforce (CHAT) in 2008 and recommending possible changes to
our city code, and the second is implementing the Bellingham Housing Levy
funds distribution.

Working with the CHAT recommendations

In early 2007, Bellingham and Whatcom County leaders created the 12-member
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 households earning 80 percent or less of the county median
income. After more than 40 meetings, the taskforce presented their
recommendation in late 2008.

This summer, Bellingham City Council President Seth Fleetwood and I convened
another group of individuals to revisit the work done by CHAT five years ago
and to examine where the city has followed through on action strategies and
where more actions can be recommended. This “citywide” affordable housing
taskforce has now met several times and focused on examining the list of six
main goals produced by the 2008 CHAT taskforce:

  1. Codify housing action plan organizations
  2.  Create an Affordable Housing Investment Fund
  3.  Strive to reduce land and building costs
  4.  Provide incentives for the creation of affordable housing
  5.  Retain older housing stock
  6.  Retain and replace mobile and manufactured homes.

In 2010 the voters approved No. 2 on that list, so at the first meeting of
this new group, we decided to concentrate on goals 3 and 4: strive to reduce
land and building costs, and provide incentives for the creation of
affordable housing. The group provided and refined a list of 16 recommended
actions that the City could take to improve affordable housing in our
community, including making it easier and affordable to build smaller
houses, adjusting impact fees, examining allowing single-family homes to
include additional dwelling uses, exploring the idea of wetland mitigation
banking, and providing neighborhoods the opportunity to pilot some of these
actions.

The next step is to have City staff provide recommendations for the group to
consider in the September meeting. We will then prioritize actions to
implement in the months ahead.

Moving forward with the Housing Levy

The second major City action to help provide affordable housing in
Bellingham is through implementation of the housing levy. The 2012
Bellingham Housing Levy aims to assist the homeless and low-income tenants
in Bellingham. The levy is expected to generate $3 million per year for
seven years and is intended to fund four programs:

  •  Production and preservation of homes
  •  Rental assistance and support services
  •  Low-income homebuyer assistance
  •  Acquisition and opportunity loans.

The levy was proposed by the Bellingham City Council and passed by the
voters in 2012. This spring, the City put out a call for applications. The
housing levy priorities include meeting the needs of the homeless,
increasing the affordable housing supply, assisting the housing and service
needs of the elderly, assisting the special needs populations, supporting
healthy children and families, preserving affordable housing stock, meeting
geographic housing priorities, and coordinating the delivery of services.

In July, the City received applications for its first round of funding. This
year, the seven applicants are from established community organizations that
are looking to expand or provide new programs and services to meet our
affordable housing needs. The applicants were Bellingham Housing Authority,
Catholic Housing Services, Sun Community Service, Kulshan Community Land
Trust, Lydia Place, Opportunity Council and YWCA of Bellingham. Specific
information about these projects is available on the City’s website.

The City is now evaluating these proposals, and public comment will be
accepted on these applications through Sept. 12. The applications will be
reviewed by the City’s Community Development Advisory Board, which is
expected to make recommendations to me in mid-September. We will have final
awards announced by the end of the month.

A place to live, work and play

Overall, the City has reason to be optimistic about housing and our economy
in general. Sales tax receipts are up and employment is steady, but housing
prices and rents continue to rise. We need to continue to make Bellingham
housing affordable for everyone. We need to provide a variety of housing in
a variety of forms and a variety of places throughout our community while
maintaining our high quality of life. Bellingham is a great place to live,
with unique neighborhoods, and we need a strategy to maintain that
uniqueness while providing the housing we need. We look forward to your
comments as we bring forward recommendations that allow us to live, work,
learn and play in Bellingham.

This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham
Herald invited Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville to provide to share updates
about City of Bellingham issues and projects. She invites citizens to
contact her at 360-778-8100 or mayorsoffice@cob.org

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