Local Election

Here’s who’s supporting the Bellingham Home Fund, and what it will cost homeowners

A sign promotes the Bellingham Home Fund, a Bellingham property tax that supports affordable housing citywide.
A sign promotes the Bellingham Home Fund, a Bellingham property tax that supports affordable housing citywide. The Bellingham Herald

Bellingham residents are being asked to extend a property tax that helps pay for low-income housing programs citywide.

In June, City Council members unanimously voted to place the Bellingham Home Fund measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.

This new measure would replace the final year of a housing tax that was approved in 2012 and was set to expire next year. Residents won’t be double-taxed in 2019.

What it means:

Money collected from the tax would continue to help with down payments for home buyers, provide rental assistance and build housing aimed at low-income residents, among other benefits.

A vote to approve the Bellingham Home Fund would cost homeowners 36 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value on their home, replacing the same amount they have paid since 2012.

That amounts to $108 annually for someone who owns a $300,000 house.

It would last for 10 years.

Housing costs:

In a 2017 citywide survey, Bellingham residents cited homelessness and a lack of affordable housing among their top concerns.

That’s in reaction to skyrocketing rent and home prices across Western Washington.

Median home sales prices in Bellingham have topped $400,000 at times this year, according to data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Average rent in Bellingham was $1,600 in September, according to the Zillow Rent Index. That’s down 7.6 percent from last year.

Fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Bellingham is $1,028, a figure that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development uses in setting subsidies for low-income renters.

About 52 percent of Bellingham residents are renters, according to data from the city of Bellingham.

Vacancy rates have been between 0 percent and 2 percent, according to several sources, adding to the shortage of affordable housing.

Income instability continues around Whatcom County, according to the United Way’s current ALICE report on asset-limited, income-constrained, employed residents, which is compiled using census data and other government figures.

Some 18 percent of Whatcom County residents are below the poverty live, according to the report.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington resident must earn $26.87 per hour to afford the average apartment.

Supporters:

The Home Fund is backed by several local elected officials and a broad coalition of Bellingham-area businesses, unions, political and civic groups — including Whatcom Democrats, the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Connections, and St. Joseph hospital.

No organized opposition has been identified, but Whatcom Republicans recommended rejecting it in a Facebook post and in a mailed voter guide. No one volunteered to write a statement against it for inclusion in the Whatcom County voter guide.

Voters in Washington state will see some changes to their ballots for the November 2018 election.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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