Creating Pathways to Homeownership

Pathways to Homeownership or a City of Dead Ends

Another rent hike. Another move. Another school system.

Another family–maybe yours–is pushed farther out of town, and farther from jobs, stores, healthcare services, public transportation and higher education opportunities.

This narrative has become a standard in Whatcom County. It started as the norm for our low-income families and is now becoming the norm for our middle-income families as well.

Perhaps a move improves cash flow with lower rent. Or perhaps, once you factor in a new commute, it’s a wash. Either way, every time Bellingham’s lack of affordable housing options forces out another family, our community experiences a cumulative, tangible loss.

Housing instability bleeds dysfunction into every corner of our lives.

Whatcom County's Housing Gap

Environment, Education and Health

Economically displacing workers creates sprawl, increases traffic and pollution, and decreases job security. Children lose friends, educational momentum and access to healthy, social after-school activities. In many cases, these losses–especially if repeated in patterns over time–not only set children up for behavioral, emotional and health difficulties, but also increase the probability that they will rely on government assistance as they enter adulthood.

Homelessness, Subsidies and Rentals

The inadequate supply of Whatcom County homes in the $125,000 to $300,000 price range keeps average wage earners in the rental market long past when they should be able to purchase a home. This means people attempting to move from homelessness, transitional housing or subsidized housing to long-term, unsubsidized rental housing, are competing with neighbors who have enough income and resources to own a home, as well as (generally) more stable jobs and stronger credit histories.

The bloated Whatcom County renter population creates a completely unfair uphill battle for folks attempting these critical transitions and the organizations supporting them. And it impacts renters, rental agencies and property owners too. It places tremendous pressure on the rental market, which is not positioned to both solve homelessness and house folks who should be able to own homes.

Homeownership, Living Wage and Businesses

Owning your own home within reasonable commuting distance to work has become a pipe dream for many residents of Whatcom County.

“Even if you find a home under $435,000 and have the whopping $80,000 downpayment ready to go,” explains Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County Executive Director, John Moon, “your income still needs to be over $73,000 per year to afford the mortgage. In a single-earner household, that’s an hourly wage of $35 per hour.”

The vast majority of employees, especially those working for family-owned, locally-run businesses, have no chance of achieving such a high wage.

Expanding a business in this climate is even more difficult. How can local businesses grow and thrive, if they are unable to attract new talent? Can they even retain their current talent? How can developers and contractors bring in construction crews? How do we spur economic growth if new build projects are dead-ended by worker housing costs?

What would permanent solutions to the local housing crisis look like?

Solutions for average wage earners, their families and their children:

For families, affordable homeownership price points would mean stable, long-term living costs and an ability to build wealth through their home’s equity, as well as improved outcomes in health and education.

Solutions for people experiencing homelessness:

If homeownership were available to average wage earners in Whatcom County, they would be able to begin moving along a “Housing Continuum.” Hardworking families able to buy a home would move out of the rental market, creating space for those living in subsidized or transitional housing to move to long-term rentals, and freeing up more of our community’s supportive resources for those currently living on the streets.

Solutions for businesses and economic growth:

New developments would increase economic activity for suppliers, subcontractors, real estate agents and title companies. Increased stability would mean more businesses would be able to retain employees, attract new talent and expand. More homeowners means more taxpayers and more community assets. Innovation, opportunity and security for all of our residents would increase. Whatcom County, as a whole, could reach its full potential.

Community Solutions to a Community Crisis

Housing stability is not just the responsibility of the “housers” (the people who build homes, support housing transitions, and work tirelessly to ensure every person has a stable, clean, warm place to live). Housing stability and choice impact all of us, which means a permanent solution to Whatcom County’s housing crisis will take all of us to achieve.

Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County and Kulshan Community Land Trust have partnered with the Whatcom Community Foundation to bridge this gap. With over 70 new homes in the pipeline for working Whatcom County families who cannot afford to buy a home in the current market, this partnership is positioned to create pathways where we currently see dead ends.

Our first step, the 52-unit Telegraph Townhomes project, will break ground this summer, providing permanent housing options at prices hardworking families can afford. Telegraph Townhomes will house residents in the 30-80% area median income (AMI) range, with mortgages as low as $350 per month and energy bills as low as $25 per month.

How you can help

There are many ways to get involved and help Habitat create pathways to homeownership for local residents. Get your hands dirty volunteering on the build site. Work directly with future homeowners through Habitat’s Homebuyer Support Committee. Or donate lightly used housewares, appliances, furniture and building supplies to the Habitat Store.

Register for a New Volunteer Orientation today.

Ways to give

Every gift, from $5 to $50,000, makes a difference.

Consider donating lightly used household items, furniture appliances and building supplies to the Habitat Store. Schedule your free donation pickup online today.

Or consider making a monetary donation to Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County or the Whatcom Community Foundation's Threshold Fund.

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