Some affordable housing in Bellingham is being sold. Here’s how that’s a good thing

Condemned Aloha Motel is demolished

Workers demolish one of the buildings at the Aloha Motel on North Samish Way in Bellingham, Washington on Nov. 10, 2015. The city condemned the motel for being a hub of crime and then bought the property.
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Workers demolish one of the buildings at the Aloha Motel on North Samish Way in Bellingham, Washington on Nov. 10, 2015. The city condemned the motel for being a hub of crime and then bought the property.

The Bellingham Housing Authority will sell 24 houses and use the anticipated $7-plus million in proceeds to help finance the redevelopment of the former Aloha Motel property.

Located on North Samish Way in Bellingham and once a magnet for crime, the Aloha site is being turned into a mix of affordable housing — a total of 160 apartments and townhouses — and offices and commercial space. Groundbreaking is planned for summer 2019, according to Brien Thane, executive director and CEO of the Bellingham Housing Authority.

As for the 24 houses, the housing agency bought the single-family homes in the 1980s and has been renting them as affordable housing. They’re scattered around Bellingham, with one or two located outside the city.

Compared to the organization’s other properties, the houses are inefficient to operate, Thane said.

For example, is a faucet breaks at one of the housing agency’s multifamily sites, the organization knows the make and model and likely has an available replacement.

“That’s just not the case with these houses,” Thane said. “They’re all quite different from each other.”

The Bellingham Herald obtained information for this story through phone and email interviews.

As part of the sales effort, the housing authority is working with the city of Bellingham and nonprofits that include Lydia Place, Northwest Youth Services and Kulshan Community Land Trust. The goal is to have the nonprofits buy the homes for their programs or housing, according to Thane.

“I find it exciting that we’re able to work together with the city and a broad range of nonprofit partners, so that rather than just sell these houses and invest the funds in building more affordable housing, which is a good thing in and of itself, these houses will continue to provide a benefit to the broader community,” Thane said.

The city isn’t buying any of the houses but expects that some nonprofits will ask for funding to acquire them, said Samya Lutz, Housing and Services Program manager for Bellingham.

Affordable homes

Thane said the Bellingham Housing Authority acquired the properties with financing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which required they be sold at their appraised value.

HUD must give the housing authority permission to sell the houses, Thane said, adding that he expected the OK to come later this month.

The houses are valued in the low- to mid-$300,000 range, according to Thane.

“There’s almost no inventory on the market in our community in that price range. It’s a real opportunity all the way around, whether somebody wants to acquire one for like a group home or work through the land trust for a home ownership opportunity,” Thane said.

Houses that aren’t sold to nonprofits will be put on the open market in the spring, Thane said.

People are living in all of the houses, save for one on Moore Street that is home to the Roosevelt Neighborhood Resource Center. The housing authority wants to sell the house to the Whatcom Family and Community Network, the group that runs the resource center.

As for the residents in the other homes, Thane said the housing authority is working to find them new homes in its other properties.

“I’m confident that we will succeed in relocating folks,” he said. “If push came to shove and somehow we simply could not relocate a family, then we would not be selling that house.”

Aloha Drawing
The former Aloha Motel property will be turned into a mix of affordable housing, parking, offices and commercial space under new owner Bellingham Housing Authority. City of Bellingham Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Former Aloha site

As for the former Aloha property, the city of Bellingham obtained the site in 2015 under condemnation proceedings after declaring the motel a blight. The motel at 315 N. Samish Way was demolished the same year.

And while the Aloha was known for housing criminal and unsafe activity — drug deals, deadly overdoses, violence — it also was one of the few places where people with little income and bad background checks could find a place to live.

In 2017, the Bellingham Housing Authority bought the property from the city for $1.83 million, using a loan obtained from the city’s low-income housing fund.

The land will be redeveloped into a complex with 160 apartments and townhouses for residents with a range of incomes, new office headquarters for the housing agency, a parking garage for tenants, and commercial spaces along North Samish Way.

Construction will occur in two phases, with the first one set to break ground this summer to build 69 apartments and the headquarters.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea