Take a look at these new apartments for homeless in Bellingham
As winter nears, 40 homeless youths and adults will go from the streets to a room of their own with the opening of a new five-story building called 22 North.
It opened amid growing homelessness in Whatcom County in recent years, a reflection of what has occurred elsewhere on the West Coast.
Compared to last year, the number of people who are homeless in Whatcom has increased by nearly 10 percent to 815, according to the annual census conducted in January. The Point In Time Count, as it’s known, provides a snapshot, and advocates have said that the actual number of homeless is higher.
Bellingham nonprofits Opportunity Council and Northwest Youth Services created the new housing — 40 furnished studio apartments in all — at 22 North through their partnership.
Half of the studios will be set aside for Northwest Youth Services clients ages 18 to 24 years old.
“We’ve got young people who have been living outside for years who are signing leases this week,” said Riannon Bardsley, executive director for Northwest Youth Services. “It’s a unique opportunity for them to change the trajectory of their lives.”
She was among the project representatives who talked to The Bellingham Herald this week about the apartments.
Affordable housing is scarce in Bellingham, where a low rental vacancy rate and high rental payments make it tough to get those in need into homes.
Northwest Youth Services alone has about 100 young adults on its waiting list for housing.
The remaining 20 studios in the building will be for Opportunity Council clients, adults who are chronically homeless. Of the studios, five will be reserved for veterans.
22 North will have around-the-clock staffing and security, community rooms as well as office space for Northwest Youth Services. There also will be services on the premises, including housing case management, vocational employment support, mental health and chemical dependency assistance.
People will need a key card to get into the building and its outdoor courtyard, both of which will be secured.
Tenants will pay 30 percent — a rate that’s considered affordable — of whatever income they have toward their rent. Government rental subsidies pay the remainder.
There isn’t a limit to how long the tenants can live there.
“We expect probably the young adults will be the group that is more likely to move on to other types of housing opportunities,” said Greg Winter, executive director for the Opportunity Council.
For the Opportunity Council, the new building represented a new direction. Winter said it was committed to developing more, much-needed affordable housing in the community.
The project provided help that was rare and needed, according to Bardsley.
“This investment is creating opportunities that young people don’t have anywhere else in Whatcom County,” Bardsley said. “And, actually, providing supportive housing to young people and young adults is rare across the nation.”
The majority of the money for 22 North came from the federal low-income housing tax credit program.
Two other primary sources were housing dollars from the city of Bellingham, from federal housing funds as well as from the levy Bellingham voters approved in 2012 — called the Bellingham Home Fund — to help those in need get into affordable housing.
The Washington state Department of Commerce also has provided some money, as did Chuckanut Health Foundation, First Federal Community Foundation, and IMCO Construction.
There also were private individual donors. Whatcom County government, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Bellingham/Whatcom County Housing Authorities were among those helping as well.
In short, project developers said, it took a great deal of public-private efforts and donations to bring 22 North to fruition.
“It literally takes everybody partnering to make something like this happen,” Bardsley said.
The nonprofits have until the end of January to fully lease 22 North, as required under an agreement with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. They want to get people into all of the studios by Thanksgiving.
“We know that there is this need in the community, and it should not take us until January,” said Jenny Weinstein, Opportunity Council’s housing development director, during a pause in the tour of 22 North she provided to visitors on Wednesday.
One apartment on the fifth floor had a view of Bellingham Bay off in the distance. Another on the same floor was smaller than the first, though both had what looked like wood floors, kitchen space and a bathroom. Everything smelled new.
And for some of the homeless, it could be home by Thanksgiving.
“We’re trying to accelerate that. Winter’s coming. There’s 40 people living on the streets,” Winter said.