Housing week: ‘It’s not just about the American dream...about a place to live.’

The new Eleanor Apartments at 1510 N. Forest St. in Bellingham on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The 80-unit apartment building is for low-income seniors.
The new Eleanor Apartments at 1510 N. Forest St. in Bellingham on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The 80-unit apartment building is for low-income seniors. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Whatcom Housing Week, the first of its kind, begins Monday as the county grapples with homelessness as well as high rental and housing prices.

Organizers hope to bring together people to learn about problems, work toward solutions and delve into innovative ideas. The Bellingham event is geared toward the public, industry professionals and civic leaders.

“The message is about the importance of housing as community infrastructure. It’s not just about the American dream. It’s not just about a place to live,” said Greg Winter, executive director of the Opportunity Council, which serves homeless and low-income families and individuals.

“It’s about making sure that we have adequate housing available to everybody who needs housing so that it will increase public health,” Winter added, “and it’s important infrastructure for economic development.”

Opportunity Council is among the organizers of the event that runs through Thursday.

The kickoff on Monday is at the new Eleanor Apartments, which was built by Mercy Housing Northwest and opened in mid-September to provide affordable housing to low-income seniors. The four-story building at 1510 N. Forest St. has 80 one-bedroom apartments, a 3,000-square-foot community center and health and wellness services on-site in partnership with PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.

Health and housing

Health care provider Unity Care NW also helped organize Whatcom Housing Week, which includes a “Healthy Housing Day” on Wednesday afternoon.

Jennifer Moon, Unity Care NW spokeswoman, hopes that people who go to the Wednesday event come away “with an awareness and appreciation for the linkages between mental health, physical health and the built environment.”

“When we think about the effects of the built environment on health, we might think about things like walkability, access to bike routes or paths, parks and those kinds of things. But there is also a growing body of research about the effects of the ‘loneliness epidemic,’ social isolation and toxic stress on our mental and physical health,” Moon said.

“Mental and physical health are interconnected. Stress and lack of social connection have been found to have physical health implications, while poor physical health can contribute to mental health challenges,” she added.

‘No one solution’

Other organizers include Kulshan Community Land Trust, which is behind the Tuesday tour showcasing innovative home ownership in the Bellingham area, and Sustainable Connections, which has a focus that includes green building and smart growth.

“I hope people understand that there is no one solution, but it will take a myriad of efforts to see housing market changes and opportunities for everyone to have affordable housing that meets their needs,” said Rose Lathrop, the green building and smart growth manager for Sustainable Connections.

And that includes the concept of “Missing Middle Housing.”

“These provide more affordable housing types that are compatible with existing neighborhoods,” Lathrop said. “These housing types are again just part of the solution, but critical to keeping our walkable neighborhoods socio-economically diverse and accessible to everyone.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

If you go

Whatcom Housing Week kicks off Monday with three events in Bellingham:

▪ 10 to 11:30 a.m. – opening reception and panel discussion with the Opportunity Council. “Communities of Opportunity – Housing Equity in the 21st Century” is the focus, with Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle.

▪  1 to 3 p.m. – convening a regional network to create more affordable housing is the topic.

The first two events are at Eleanor Apartments, 1510 N. Forest St.

▪  5:30 to 7:30 p.m. – showing of “Looking for Functional Zero” and discussion. The documentary explores the causes of homelessness in Whatcom County, and solutions. The event is at Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay St. Tickets are required. Each costs $5.13, including service fee. Buy them in advance online from Brown Paper Tickets at brownpapertickets.com/event/3118112.

Details: Whatcom Housing Week continues through Thursday. It will feature national experts, workshops and tours. Many of the events are free. For a complete list, go to whatcomhousingweek.org.