Construction will begin in July for what ultimately will be 54 townhomes in north Bellingham for low- to moderate-income residents who are struggling to buy a house amid skyrocketing prices in a hot real estate market.
Eight townhomes will be built at a time at 1050 Telegraph Road in the largest ever collaboration between nonprofits Kulshan Community Land Trust and Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County, which are pooling their resources in order to help more people.
Whatcom Community Foundation is also part of the partnership.
The townhomes will be built over seven years, with the first group expected to be completed in February.
The development will help with a number of housing problems in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
“We are doing this because so many hardworking people have been priced out of home ownership, which means people are renting when they want to buy,” said Dean Fearing, executive director for Kulshan Community Land Trust. “The impacts of this is fewer rentals and increased rental prices — the system is clogged — which pushes people out at the bottom and adds to our homelessness problem.”
The affordable homes will be energy-efficient, making for monthly energy bills that are as low as $25. They will have two or three bedrooms. The development will be next to a new bus stop, have a community garden and a future connection to a Bellingham Parks trail.
Mortgages will range from $100,000 to $175,000, with monthly payments as low as $350 for people who qualify. People also will put in sweat equity by helping to build their homes.
To qualify, would-be homeowners must make at least 30 percent to 80 percent of the area median income — or $22,830 to $60,880 for a family of four in Bellingham. The project also allows Kulshan to help households with moderate incomes, those above 80 percent of the area median income, Fearing added.
Habitat for Humanity will build the homes.
Funding for the project is coming from private donations and grants, including the City of Bellingham Community Development Block Grant program and the Washington State Department of Commerce Housing Trust Fund.
Kulshan has a waiting list for its homes, Fearing said, and it hopes to build another 12 to 16 homes in another project on 3 acres in the Birchwood Neighborhood.
“Having 70-plus homes in the pipeline allows us to serve these home buyers who have no other options to get into home ownership,” Fearing said.
What the numbers tell us
Data from various agencies reinforce what Fearing and other advocates are seeing, as housing costs far outpace wage increases:
- In Bellingham, the median price of homes sold jumped 15.6 percent to $425,000 in the first quarter of this year, according to a report done by Troy Muljat, owner of Bellingham-based Muljat Group Realtors. Across Whatcom County, median prices rose 10.9 percent.
- Bellingham’s average rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment this month is $1,120, a 5.1 percent increase compared to June 2017, according to a new report from Apartmentlist.com.
- The fair market rent for a Whatcom two-bedroom unit is $1,028 a month, according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. To afford it, a worker needs to make $19.77 an hour. A one-bedroom requires earnings of $15.19 an hour. Both costs are well above Washington state’s minimum wage of $11.50 an hour.
- About 39 percent of Whatcom County households struggle to afford basic necessities that include housing, according to United Way’s ALICE report. In Bellingham, 44 percent of households struggle to do so.
- Rental vacancy rates are less than 1 percent in Whatcom County, according to the Whatcom County Health Department.
- The average price for a one-bedroom rental was $883 in fall 2017, according to the county health department. That’s a 40 percent increase since 2009.
- Compared to last year, the number of people in Whatcom County who are homeless has increased by nearly 10 percent to 815, according to the annual census conducted in January. The Point In Time Count, as its known, provides a snapshot and advocates say that the actual number of homeless is higher.
Putting a dent in the need and getting people into “safe, secure and affordable homes is just so important,” said John Moon, executive director for Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County.
“The home is where everyone starts every day. It’s so basic to what everyone needs,” Moon said. “The problem here in Whatcom County is so acute.”
Kulshan Community Land Trust:kulshanclt.org.
Habit for Humanity in Whatcom County: hfhwhatcom.org.
Whatcom Community Foundation: whatcomcf.org.