First requests made for money from Bellingham low-income housing levy

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 23, 2013 

HOUSINGPROJECTS

The city of Bellingham is considering eight projects, including the YWCA, requesting money in the first round of funding from the levy that Bellingham residents approved to fix up or create low-income housing on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - New housing for farmworker families and repairs to Dorothy Place, which helps women and children who are homeless because of domestic violence, are among eight proposals asking for money from a new Bellingham levy that provides for low-income housing.

The requests are for the first round of funding since Bellingham voters approved a property tax increase in November 2012 to help the needy and the homeless get into affordable housing. The levy is expected to raise about $3 million a year for seven years for the Bellingham Home Fund.

The city of Bellingham asked organizations to submit their requests earlier this summer for projects that would build or preserve housing, as well help low-income residents buy new homes.

The public has until Sept. 12 to comment on the proposals. The decision on which projects to fund will be made by the end of September.

Greg Winter, director of Whatcom Homeless Service Center at the Opportunity Council, served as co-chairman of the campaign to approve the levy. He isn't evaluating the projects but said he was impressed by the city's speed in getting the effort under way.

"It was a big undertaking and it was really important to get this resource working for the community quickly," Winter said.

"It's a nice mix of housing to serve people with disabilities, farmworkers, very low income families," he added of the proposals. "I think it's off to a great start."

Three organizations that help women and children were among those who asked for a combined $741,918 to fix up their buildings or make them more energy efficient.

"When you look at some of the projects, we're helping to stabilize some of our housing that we have in the community - preservation of the YWCA, Dorothy Place and Lydia Place are facilities that house homeless women and children," said David Stalheim, Housing Program and Block Grant manager for the city of Bellingham, of those projects.

Other requests include two from Catholic Housing Services:

• $362,500 for its proposed 42-unit housing and commercial development at 1122 Cornwall Ave. The money would be used for reserves and costs such as architecture, survey and financing.

The nonprofit hopes to begin building the $9.7 million project in the fall, although it is still awaiting permit approval from the city of Bellingham.

Twenty of the 42 units would be reserved for chronically homeless people. Some area business owners have expressed concerns about the project.

• $1.5 million for its Bakerview Family Housing Project at 760-824 W. Bakerview Road. The 50 units would serve farmworkers living in Whatcom County and their families, and would cost $9.9 million. It would include two playgrounds for children.

"I hope it gets funded," said Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, an advocacy group in Bellingham that works on immigration and food-justice issues.

Currently, there is just one housing project for farmworkers in Bellingham, Guillen said.

"Adding a second one is incredibly important right now," she said, noting there have been cases of substandard housing for farmworkers in Whatcom County.

Having a place that's safe for the workers and their families - one with playgrounds, a location that allows them to get to their agriculture jobs out in the county easily, one that provides access to services as well as parks and other forms of recreation in Bellingham - also helps create a stable labor force, she added.

COMMENT ON PROJECTS

The city of Bellingham is accepting public comments on eight proposals seeking funding from a new voter-approved levy to provide for low-income housing.

Public comment on the proposals will be accepted through Sept. 12.

The requests and their preliminary rankings for the 2013 funding are on this city webpage.

Send comments to David Stalheim at dbstalheim@cob.org. He is the Housing Program and Block Grant manager for the city of Bellingham.

The city's Community Development Advisory Board is reviewing the proposals and will make recommendations to Mayor Kelli Linville in mid-September. Project funding will be announced by the end of September.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

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