On Monday, Bellingham City Council held a public hearing on amendments to COB’s Accessory Dwelling Unit language. We want to review what was discussed, pushback and recommendations, so you can have a clearer understanding of how the WHA, Council and others are grappling with our housing crisis

Planning Commission had recommended the following three amendments:













The hottest topic of discussion was owner occupancy. As you can read, recommendations to council were to retain owner occupancy in single family zoning, but remove it in all other zones. This diverges from recommendations that the Whatcom Housing Alliance sent to City Council ahead of the meeting. A main area of concern for opposition to the removal of owner occupancy is some erroneously believe that will open up the door for investors to swoop in and purchase single family zones, purchase houses and drop in ADUs to make profit. This is steadfastly refuted by historical evidence in Seattle, Portland and other municipalities from California, to Oregon. Investors make up about 1.5% of all purchases of single family houses in the US and there is nothing stopping institutional investors from purchasing homes in Bellingham now.

But that is not supported by the data. A few weeks ago the WHA had City Planning pull data from a publicly available data set so we could better ascertain home ownership numbers. There are a total of 22,004 total single family homes in Whatcom County, owned by a total of 21,179 owners. That means there are 1.03 owners for every home in Bellingham. Of those 22,004 homes, only 6.1% of homeowners live outside Whatcom County and of those 1,302 homes 90% of out of county owners are owners with 1 rental home.

So why the barriers to another tool to sustainable growth?

The WHA knows that ADUs will not solve the housing crisis. Our main concern is that we’re not increasing housing supply fast enough and we are working on many fronts to make that happen. ADUs should be a low lift option that we can approve and move on from, to focus on all the other tools at our disposal. One of the items the WHA is currently working on is researching and surveying the viability of making ADU plans publicly available. This has been a proven tool to reduce costs to ADU builders, which further reduces costs.

Washington State needs to increase housing supply by 2.5 million more houses by 2050. We steadfastly believe that the more we throw up barriers and act on fear based and protectionist thinking, the more our local population and businesses suffer. WHA stands firm that we need to offer up support for more housing supply as a key avenue to increasing housing affordability across all areas of the Housing Continuum. We also support our members who are working on other avenues to help solve the housing crisis.

Letters of support in council’s packet, for the removal of owner occupancy in single family zoning greatly out numbered letters against and you can read those here by scrolling to page 210. The support for WHA’s full suite of recommendations was impressive and reflects the need for Council to offer up a solution to our housing crisis that extends beyond the protection of single family zoning.

Council voted 7-0 to recommend additional discussion of the ordinance at the Planning Committee. Council asked for Planning Department to return with more data on single family zoning. We will report back as this progresses. What Council and Bellingham at large needs to be watching are the 29+ housing bills that were discussed in committee, this week alone, and are in consideration at the state level. Does Bellingham author it’s own future?

>>Please, sign up for our exciting Bellingham for Everyone Learning Series, with our first speaker on February 15th!