Opportunity Council Board of Directors value statement: Everyone should have a safe and affordable place to live.
The Opportunity Council supports Catholic Housing Services' plans to develop supportive housing services at 1100 Cornwall Ave. Not only do we believe providing shelter and support for people who are disadvantaged is the right thing to do, it will save our community money. We are fortunate local government and nonprofits are committed to working collaboratively with organizations such as Catholic Housing Services to develop projects that address housing needs in our community.
In recent months Catholic Housing Services' planned supportive housing facility at 1100 Cornwall Ave. has received considerable attention. Much of this attention has been positive but some not as positive because some people don't realize the human and economic value of a project like this and how it helps increase efforts to end homelessness.
Because leaving disabled homeless adults on the streets costs taxpayers more money than providing supportive housing, public policy encourages nonprofit organizations to expand services. For the past four years, we have been providing housing in scattered sites, including privately owned apartments throughout Whatcom County. It is a remarkably successful strategy that has led to housing stability and recovery for hundreds of people who were chronically homeless and disabled. As a result, we now have far fewer homeless veterans plus reduced use of emergency health and criminal justice services.
To continue making progress toward ending homelessness, projects such as the one planned at 1100 Cornwall Ave. are essential in helping people off the street and into to safe housing.
Unfortunately, these projects are often met with opposition and misunderstanding.
Opposition to supportive housing projects tends to follow a template. Opponents contend that bringing disabled and homeless people into their community threatens the safety of the neighborhood and causes a decline in property values. In Bellingham, where many citizens consider themselves to be progressive, there is an added element where opponents often acknowledge the worthiness of the proposed project, even proclaim the good work of the sponsoring organization, and then proceed to argue that it shouldn't go into their neighborhood. It is useful to note that many of the people who would be housed at this new facility already live downtown - in the doorways, alleys and parks.
A misunderstanding regarding Catholic Housing Services' project at 1100 Cornwall Ave. is that it will be built on the property recently purchased from the City of Bellingham. In fact, this project will be built on property Catholic Housing Services has owned since 1997 plus 30 feet of the recently purchased property. The property it recently purchased from the city will be the site of "Phase 2" of this proposed development and will undergo a planning process in the coming years where the community will be invited to provide input on the development of the site.
We believe the surest way to overcome opposition and misunderstanding surrounding these types of projects is ongoing communication with our neighbors and responsible management of our housing programs. Organizations such as Catholic Housing Services and Opportunity Council have a responsibility to address residents' needs, as well as neighborhood needs. We have a stake in neighborhood integrity because we want our residents to live in safe neighborhoods that promote the recovery of individuals and stability of the individual and community. The downtown neighborhood is also our neighborhood.
Catholic Housing Services and the Opportunity Council are committed to working collaboratively with neighbors to address concerns as long as the primary goals of our programs are not undermined. As a partner agency, we can verify Catholic Housing Services has been actively responding to neighbors' concerns, is active in group stakeholder activities, and has increased enforcement of program rules that promote the livability of the surrounding neighborhood.
We also believe our neighbors and elected public officials have a responsibility. They are part of a broader civic fabric and have a responsibility to participate in the resolution of these community challenges.
The Catholic Housing Services supportive housing project at 1100 Cornwall Ave. will move forward as it should. This project and projects like this are the right and humane thing to do and will save our community money in the long run. Opportunity Council supports Catholic Housing Services development of supportive housing services at 1100 Cornwall Ave.
Dave Finet is the executive director of the Opportunity Council, a community action agency. For more information, go to its website at oppco.org.