For Whatcom County residents who struggle with affordable housing, this love for our little corner of the world leads to some sad but necessary conversations. With the median price of homes at over $400,000, many have to decide between living in a place they know and love, or moving somewhere where they can find affordable housing. Bobby Lawrence had to wrestle with that choice for many years.
At 14, Bobby moved to Washington State from Arizona with his mother in search of a new life. They settled for a time in Port Angeles, where they were able to buy a house. “My mom had a wonderful home that she was unfortunately unable to keep,’ he said, “It was tough, it is tough to afford nice homes–especially single moms.” They bounced around several cities in southern Washington, but never settled for long.
Bobby came to Bellingham when he got into Western. He fell in love with the philosophy department there, and graduated in 2012. Through connections he forged through hard work, he was able to find a job he loved, working as a patient access representative. He feels good about working for a nonprofit, and even better about helping people for a living.
There was only one missing piece to the puzzle: “Owning a home has always been a dream of mine,” he said, “My mom wanted to own a home for the longest time, so many rentals, so many evictions, so much difficulty. I was really faced with this horrible choice in the past 5 years or so of thinking, well, I feel good about my job, and I’ve been there for 3 years; I feel good about my future there. All of what I would call close family is here. But do I want to transfer and find a new area, because the cost of housing will be much more accessible?
I was trying to figure out what I could afford and couldn’t afford,” he said, when he came across a house being sold by Kulshan Community Land Trust. “What an amazing house and what an amazing price.” Although the house was a bit out of his price range at the time, he thought, “this could be the answer for me. For my dream to have a home, to be able to really settle down here.”
A potential homebuyer that makes too much for any assistance, yet too little to afford any homes on the market is part of the “Missing Middle” (a group that has been steadily growing in Bellingham). The partnership between Kulshan CLT and Habitat for Humanity was born out of the need to join forces to address this very issue.
“Our homeowners are people who’ve always known that they wanted to put down roots in the community,” said Dean Fearing, CEO of Kulshan CLT, “But they also understand that without some kind of help, they’re never going to get into home ownership.”
Bobby got into Kulshan’s program, and while on the waitlist, Habitat and Kulshan teamed up and the Telegraph Townhome project was born. When Bobby heard about the project, he jumped on board.
Bobby fulfilled his required hours a long time ago, but he still shows up to build each Saturday at the Telegraph site. ”l feel good coming out,” he said, “I come out for the morning, or maybe the full day. I get to contribute to not only my own future, but the future of my neighbors.
I get to help Habitat which is an amazing organization, and Kulshan, which is amazing, and get to help bring more of this kind of housing to the area, because so many people deserve to live like this.”
Bobby is set to move into one of the first 8 units of the Telegraph Townhome project that will be completed this year–with a total of 54 planned–fulfilling a dream that has been years in the making. “I just feel lucky. Lucky that I found out about the program. So lucky I was able to stay here and be part of it. And so lucky that this incredible project was started.”