Whatcom Council delays vote on subsidizing low-income rentals

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 23, 2013 

A pool of tax money available to economic development projects in Whatcom County will remain closed for now to low-income rental housing projects.

The Whatcom County Council put off a decision at its Tuesday, Oct. 22, meeting.

A majority of council members appeared to support the concept of spending money from the economic development investment, or EDI, program, on low-income rental construction. For now, the money can only be applied to housing projects for homeowners, but less than half of the $1.2 million set aside for low-income home construction in 2011 has been committed so far.

However, council members were concerned about how the program works and weren't ready to include rental projects. Officials with the city of Bellingham were concerned - and some on the County Council agreed - that the maximum income to qualify for the homes was too high.

Also, council member Sam Crawford was concerned that the affordable rentals wouldn't go to people who get family-wage jobs, which is a goal of the EDI program.

"I want the kinds of jobs promoted through EDI to be true living-wage jobs," he said.

The program gives the home builder a loan to pay for impact fees and utility hookup charges, which can total about $20,000 per unit in Bellingham. The loan must be repaid after 20 years, or sooner if the homes no longer quality as affordable housing.

Council members Carl Weimer and Pete Kremen said they want to give the property owner the option of deferring the loan for another 20 years if the home would continue to remain affordable, to "put in place more predictability for affordable housing in our community," as Kremen put it.

Council did not set a date for when it would reconsider adding rental projects to the EDI program.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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