The challenges in the housing world are many, including: ending homelessness, increasing the supply of affordable rental housing, and creating a range of new for-sale housing types that provide an entry to home ownership. These are nationwide issues, but are even more acute in coastal areas surrounded by plentiful natural and cultural amenities. Compounding these problems locally, expanding student enrollment and a growing population have resulted in some of the lowest rental vacancy rates in the State.
These issues will not be resolved by a few simple changes. More housing supply, a wider range of housing types, and the creation of more middle-wage jobs will help close the affordability gap. These require an engaged community and a willingness to consider a wide range of solutions. The Council has initiated a series of discussions on these issues, including Council work sessions on rental access barriers, and sessions to explore proposals to increase the supply of market-rate housing. A Town Hall in June allowed Council members to hear ideas from experts and the public on rental and ownership affordability solutions.
The City Council supports City efforts to encourage new housing production.
Urban Village Incentives support development of both residential and commercial buildings in designated areas, including Downtown. A housing levy passed by the voters in 2012 ("Home Fund") supports new affordable housing construction, rehabilitates existing affordable housing, and pays for services needed to help people stay in their homes. There is also a
multi-family tax exemption for both market-rate and affordable units in select urban areas;
Housing Equity Assessment
In 2018, the City Council tasked its Planning and Community Development Committee with creating specifications for a Housing Equity Assessment that will document the distribution of housing, services, parks, and economic opportunity within the City of Bellingham. To inform this process, the Planning Committee has convened expert stakeholders to understand needs and opportunities from their perspective. See video links and summaries of discussions below.
- Video: August 19, 2019, Housing Equity Assessment Update
- Planning and Community Development Department: Housing FAQs
- Video: July 1, 2019: Housing Equity Assessment Update
- Video, November 5, 2018: Discussion with Community Partners, Issues Facing Older Adults
- Video, September 24, 2018: Discussion with Community Partners, Issues Facing Young Children
- Video, August 27, 2018: Neighborhood Equity Discussion
Planning Committee Work Sessions on Residential Rental Barriers/Concerns
Many Bellingham community members reside in rental housing. A number of concerns have been brought to Council's attention, including how to provide information on tenant rights and responsibilities, and income discrimination issues in rental housing. The Planning Committee heard from professionals who bring various perspectives on the issue, including
renter advocacy organizations, rental property managers, and organizations that own or manage public housing or run rental assistance programs. The Council adopted an ordinance to prohibit source of income discrimination in rental housing and to expand notification of rental increases under certain circumstances. The following links include meeting videos and materials (click on specific agenda item to see video display).
- Ordinance 2018-02-004, Protection of Residential Tenants
Video, February 12, 2018: Council consideration of Ordinance Adopting Protections for Residential Tenants (Committee of the Whole)
Video, January 22, 2018: Work session on Ordinance Adopting Protections for Residential Tenants (Committee of the Whole)
Video, December 11, 2017: Work session on Ordinance Adopting Protections for Residential Tenants (Committee of the Whole)
Video, December 4, 2017: Public Hearing on Ordinance Adopting Protections for Residential Tenants (Regular Meeting)
Video, November 6, 2017: Discussion of Draft Ordinance Adopting Protections for Residential Tenants (Committee of the Whole)
Video, October 9, 2017: Committee direction on proposals to address rental barriers and concerns
Video, July 10, 2017: Presentations by experts on rental barriers and solutions
Video, June 19, 2017: Rental protections used in other jurisdictions
Video, June 5, 2017: Discussion of discrimination issues facing Section 8 renters
Video, May 22, 2017: Presentation of access issues affecting renters in Bellingham
Public Comment Received by Council
Memo, Source of Income Discrimination Ordinances
Planning Committee Work Sessions on Affordable Housing
The Planning Committee is examining proposals to improve the supply of affordable housing in Bellingham and to protect residents from being displaced from their homes. Meeting links and materials are posted below.
Video, November 6, 2017: History of the Infill Housing Toolkit
Video, September 25, 2017: Potential approaches for additional housing choice
Video, September 11, 2017: Zoning history; mobile home displacement concerns
Video, August 14, 2017: Panel discussion, "Missing Middle" housing
Video, July 24, 2017: Demographic/housing challenges and school district boundaries
Other Housing Resources
City Council Town Hall on Housing