Proposition 1, the Bellingham low-income housing levy, is based on these basic premises:
Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, decent, affordable home;
Very-low-income working families, veterans, seniors and people with disabilities ought to be able to afford housing and still have money for the basics like groceries, gas and child care;
Children's success in school and in life begins with families being able to afford a stable, decent place to live;
It's better for society, the environment and families if people can afford to live close to where they work.
At the Homeless Service Center at Opportunity Council we see daily the tragic end results of our city's shortage of affordable rental housing:
Parents agonize over choices they should never have to make: pay the rent or buy nutritious food;
Hundreds of homeless children struggle to succeed in school while living a traumatic, chaotic life of constant moving just to stay sheltered;
Veterans return home to few job opportunities and rents they cannot afford;
Seriously disabled people victimized by street predators; and
Seniors on small, fixed incomes, whose savings are now diminished, risk losing their independence because they can no longer afford home repairs and upkeep.
The alternative costs are real for our community: reduced school success, increased use of foster care, young adults who are ill-prepared for the workforce, overuse of emergency health and criminal justice services, and expensive, avoidable years of institutional senior care.
With a modest investment by local taxpayers, we can:
Build more homes affordable for low-income working families and people who are disabled;
Help veterans return to their community in homes they can afford;
Help seniors live independently, longer;
Reduce the public costs of homelessness; and
Create jobs in the construction industry.
Our need is clear: Today, thousands of Bellingham families pay over half their income for rent. Rents have gone way up, but wages have not. Long low-income housing waiting lists include too many veterans, seniors, children and people with disabilities. Hundreds of these households are homeless. Affordable homes to rent are in short supply. We need more supply to meet these needs.
Proposition 1 will help our very-low-income neighbors who cannot afford housing. The need is confirmed by recent surveys, local studies, census data and housing wait-lists. Among 426 households, including 286 children, on our homeless housing waitlist, incomes average just $4,944 annually. The public housing waitlist includes over 1,600 families.
Small cost, big impact: The average homeowner cost of 22 cents per day for seven years will create or maintain at least 1,300 homes benefitting thousands of households for decades to come. And, it will produce environmentally friendly housing and over 200 construction jobs for local contractors. This investment of $21 million will be used as matching funds to attract up to $140 million in additional private tax credit investment, federal and state grants. That's a great deal for our community. Better yet, this property tax is deductible on your tax return, so the actual cost is even less.
The right mix of support: Equally important to building new housing, the levy plan will fund services to increase housing stability for people with disabilities and working families who need help becoming more self-sufficient. That means the new housing that's built will serve more households by helping people who can, move on to market-rate housing as their incomes rise.
Accountability and oversight: The Bellingham Home Fund will have the same excellent oversight and management in place with the city's Planning and Community Development Department. The allocation process is competitive, adheres to standards and performance metrics, and leverages significant funds from public and private sources. Additionally, pending voter approval on Nov. 6, the city has drafted a detailed administration and finance plan specifically for this new source of funding. The plan includes oversight by an existing, diverse citizen advisory board and an independent loan review board.
This package won't completely solve the affordable housing crisis; it isn't intended to. It does, however, embody our community values to stand up for our veterans, very-low-income families, the elderly and the disabled.
Learn more at BellinghamHomeFund.org
Greg Winter is director of the Homeless Service Center at Opportunity Council and chairs the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness.