Homes Affordable For The Workforce is a county-wide project that proved Whatcom people know how to invent new revenue to invest in new homes affordable for the people who live and work here.

Since 2011, the Whatcom County budget has offered cash from its Economic Development Investment (EDI ) fund to pay public utility fees and impact fees that cities must use to build public facilities, like roads and parks. There’s a catch, though: HAFTW funds are only available if the homes will remain more affordable than market-rate homes.

Whatcom County’s Homes Affordable For The Workforce (HAFTW) program is a new way to use state sales tax revenue authorized under Revised Code of WA or RCW 82.14.370. WA law allows us to use these funds to help new home projects to pay a fair share of public fees for public facilities.

Whatcom was the first WA County to use these special sales taxes to help housing projects, initially investing $1,200,000 in 80 homes that were worth more than 15 times that amount when they were first built. The initial test project exceeded expectations, and the County Council invested $500,000 more for HAFTW2 in 2017, and another $500,000 for HAFTW3 in 2019.

A new policy like this can take a few years before it’s up and running, sometimes facing naysayers until people connect the dots. Sometimes, change happens fast and, suddenly, a new policy sounds normal. Once a policy is up and running, it wants to continue to improve, as in the Skagit County version in 2015. It is now possible for Whatcom County to improve its prior versions.

HAFTW proved Whatcom people can find funding to make homes affordable enough for those of us who live and work here. Sometimes, a new policy takes a few years to catch on. Sometimes, change happens fast, and a new policy sounds normal. Kudos to Whatcom County for creating something with staying power.

Paul Schissler, Paul Schissler Associates

“It’s a great service to the community when local governments help to make big projects happen, like the Housing Authority’s new homes on Samish Way. The City of Bellingham took care of 80 percent of the impact and utility fees, and Whatcom County paid the remaining 20 percent. Nonprofit developers can’t do it alone; we need the County as a partner to make projects happen. HAFTW is a key part of that County partnership.”

Greg Winter, Executive Director opportunity council