BELLINGHAM - Lower-income housing projects financed by the city's new property tax levy should begin to take shape by the end of 2013, city block grant program manager David Stalheim said at a Thursday, Jan. 10, planning meeting.
The new levy, approved by 56.6 percent of voters in November 2012, will collect a total of about $21 million in property taxes over the next seven years, beginning this year.
The biggest portion of the levy proceeds - about $16 million - will be spent on a "production and preservation of homes program" that will provide loans to develop and preserve lower-cost rental housing and preserve or rehabilitate homes whose owners meet program income standards.
But the city can't loan anticipated levy money in advance, Stalheim told members of an advisory committee that has been formed to help plan levy-funded programs. Committee members are drawn from the city's Community Development Advisory Board and Loan Review Board.
Property tax bills must be paid at the end of April and the end of October every year. The first infusion of money from the new property tax levy will become available for housing programs in May 2013. At that time, Stalheim said, the city can begin soliciting loan proposals for creation and preservation of lower-cost rental units, and could begin providing the loans in November.
Nonprofit groups, government agencies and for-profit businesses may apply.
The goal is the creation or preservation of 429 housing units during the seven-year life of the levy, including 104 units in 2013-2014.
"Those are not mandates, but they are goals for us to try to achieve," Stalheim said.
According to background materials that Stalheim prepared, a key goal is creation of more lower-cost rental dwellings for larger families.
Overall, 70 percent of the housing tax levy proceeds are supposed to go to people who make less than 50 percent of the median income.
John Harmon, executive director and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Housing Authorities, said the local tax money will help to make up for cuts in federal and state lower-income housing money in recent years.
"This is coming at a really good time," said Harmon, who is a member of the advisory committee.
Real estate broker Doug Wight, another committee member, expressed some annoyance that workers employed on construction projects funded by the tax money will be entitled to higher wages than they would get for private sector jobs, based on the requirements of state and federal "prevailing wage" laws for government projects.
"We're looking to use these dollars more effectively," Wight said. "It just seems a little bit backward."
Later in the meeting, Wight said the new housing program should make some money available to preserve mobile home parks and the homes they contain. He noted that some mobile home parks have been eliminated by newer development projects.
"Mobile home parks are a great first or second step on the ladder of home ownership," he said.
Wight said he owns a mobile home park and his firm manages five others, along with more than 600 multi-family residential buildings and 166 rental houses.
Wight also read the committee some passages from a report that he had written in the 1990s about the shortage of lower-cost housing in Bellingham.
"Some of these issues here just never go away," Wight said.