Social Justice and Affordable Housing

Historically, when we talk about affordable housing we are only thinking about the unit of housing, not the person. But many of our affordable housing solutions of yesterday are creating more problems today. For instance, we use taxpayer dollars to build an affordable housing unit for a single dad with two kids. He starts to do better in life, with less of his paycheck going to housing. He then starts to advance at work and is offered a promotion.  But before accepting the promotion, he has to consider whether his new higher wage will make him ineligible for his current affordable housing unit. If his new wage still can’t support market rate housing, he then has to make the difficult decision to turn down the promotion. 

This is called the benefits cliff. It’s real and it can lock people in poverty, stagnating their potential, and limiting their upward mobility. That’s why I approach affordable housing through a Housing Justice lens-focusing on working solutions that match homes with people’s needs, launching them out of poverty rather than locking them into it.

Getting things done.

  • Building bridges- With Sustainable Connections and other community partners, April helped to develop the Whatcom Housing Alliance (WHA). The WHA brings the development community, neighborhoods and the social service sector together to develop housing strategies and policies we can all agree on and commit to supporting.
  • Housing that matches the wages we have- April is heading Bellingham’s Neighborhood Housing Equity Assessment as Planning and Community Development Chair of the City Council. Her committee is working with staff to answer the following questions:
    • What are the wages in Bellingham that can’t afford the housing we have?
    • Which housing types can those wages support?
    • Where do we need to build those housing types to balance the socioeconomic mix of our neighborhoods?
    • Which policies and land use changes are needed to allow for those housing types to be built, and what incentives and partnerships are needed to get them built? 
    • What percentage of permanently affordable workforce housing will our community invest in to ensure our working class will always be able to live in Bellingham. 
  • Increased protections for those of us who rent- April organized the committee meetings that resulted in  the Council adopting greater protections for renters. These policies require more notice when a tenant is served with a no cause termination, more notice when tenants receive a rent increase over 10%, and no longer allow income discrimination.
  • Increased housing type options- April worked with organizations and neighbors to allow detached accessory dwelling units in single family zones. This change allowed housing options to be more responsive to our current needs.
  • Regulating short term rentals. In 2018, April advocated to limit short term rentals in primary residential zones. 
  • Protecting the affordable housing we already have- April worked with staff and council to improve policies in the city’s guiding document, the Comprehensive Plan, to protect the affordable housing that exists today. One of the last market rate affordable homes is a manufactured home park. April worked to put a moratorium on manufactured housing parks to protect them against speculation while the council works to develop protections.