Eileen Vining feared she would have to live in her van, moving from parking lot to parking lot if she couldn’t find a place to rent.
That had been her life before she left for Arizona to help her father, who was hospitalized after falling and breaking his hip. After he died, she was returning to Bellingham but was struggling to get someone to return her inquiries about renting a space.
A retired hospice nurse, Vining, 63, lived on Social Security. She said she could spend no more than $850 a month on rent.
As luck would have it, her daughter, who was living in Sweden, saw a notice on Craigslist about the opening of the Eleanor Apartments in Bellingham. The post for the affordable apartments for seniors had been made just 20 hours prior to her seeing it.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
Vining applied and got in.
“It’s such a blessing. It really is. They filled up fast,” Vining said of the apartment she’s been in since October.
Her rent is $614 a month at the Eleanor Apartments, not including electricity. She can afford it “and still eat, which is important,” Vining said.
‘So much demand’
The Eleanor Apartments on North Forest Street opened in mid-September.
Built by Mercy Housing Northwest, the four-story building is near bus services and has 80 one-bedroom units, a 3,000-square-foot community center, and health and wellness services on site through a partnership with PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.
The $22 million project was built on the former Wilson Motors property.
The apartments are for seniors 62 years and older. It has two tiers of rent; one for seniors earning up to roughly $14,700 a year and another for those earning up to roughly $24,500 annually.
It was fully occupied by the end of October.
“There was so much demand,” said Joanne LaTuchie, vice president of real estate development for Seattle-based Mercy Housing Northwest.
Finding affordable housing in Bellingham is a challenge, where a low rental vacancy rate and high rents make it tough to get low-income residents into housing.
LaTuchie was fielding phone calls from a lot of seniors who said they were facing steep rent increases.
“We also heard from a number of people who were moving into their cars,” she said, adding that Mercy Housing set aside eight apartments specifically for homeless seniors, although more than that number moved in who made it through the lottery system.
There were about 194 applications for the 80 apartments. Because of the high demand, Mercy Housing instituted a lottery.
Eleanor Apartments is the sixth housing project in Whatcom County for Mercy Housing Northwest.
About $2 million for the project came through the city – a little more than $1.7 million from the levy Bellingham voters approved in 2012 to help the needy and the homeless get into affordable housing and roughly $280,000 from federal housing dollars given to the city.
Additional dollars came through the state Housing Trust Fund and a tax credit investor for affordable housing, which was Wells Fargo.
Bellingham’s housing levy funds were critical, LaTuchie said.
“Without them, it would have been impossible,” she said.