Whatcom council takes third look at incentive for low-income rentals

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 26, 2014 

A proposal to open up a fund for low-income housing to rental projects will come before the Whatcom County Council for a third time.

The $1.2 million fund was created in 2011, but housing developers have been slow to take advantage of the incentive.

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.

County Executive Jack Louws, who administers the fund, has said including single- and multi-family rentals in the program could encourage more affordable housing and get more use out of the fund. The County Council rejected expanding the program in 2012 after backlash against a Catholic Housing Services apartment building for low-income and homeless people that was proposed for downtown Bellingham.

The council again in October 2013 postponed a decision on whether to include rentals in the program, due in part to a concern that the income ceiling was too high. The requirement for renters was reduced from 80 percent of the area's median income to 60 percent. The income level remained at 80 percent of the median for owner-occupied homes in the program.

Council will discuss adding rentals to the fund in a committee meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28. The proposal is scheduled for a vote at the 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting. Both meetings will be at the courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.

Also on Tuesday's agenda:

-- The Lummi Island Heritage Trust will propose partnering with the county on the purchase of 105 acres on the island's shore, at the site of a defunct quarry. The property would be set aside for conservation and recreation. The trust will appear before the council Natural Resources Committee at 10 a.m.

-- The planning department will update the council on the status of the Cherry Point coal terminal project. The Finance and Administrative Services Committee will hear the update at its 11 a.m. meeting.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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