Affordable Housing and Childcare. Two fundamental resources our community consistently tells us are in short supply, as evidenced once again in this year’s most recent Prosperity Project (Opportunity Council’s Community Needs Assessment).

We strive to meet this need in a variety of ways from developing housing projects with partners like Lifeline Connections and NW Youth Services, to partnering with the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce to found the Northwest Center for Childcare Retention & Expansion to support childcare providers and combat our region’s childcare desert.

While still in the early stages, our latest project seeks to address both housing and childcare by creating a facility that combines the two. The as-yet-unnamed project will be located at 1000 and 1010 N. Forest St in downtown Bellingham and will house a 5,000 square foot childcare facility and 56 1-bedroom apartment units.

While the exact age group served by the childcare center hasn’t been identified, the apartments will be dedicated to filling a specific need in our local community: affordable housing for older adults. This year’s Prosperity Project saw the number of people over the age of 55 experiencing homelessness continue to grow. Our most recent point-in-time survey showed 163 individuals in Whatcom County alone—up from 61 in 2012. By offering housing for those 55 and up, we’re also working to address a key service gap for aging adults: most services for older adults are accessible only for those 65 years and older, leaving many adults with longer wait times and other challenges to getting help.

In addition to addressing these key shortages, the facility will also be designed with building community in mind, by offering a shared multipurpose room for intergenerational activities between the children and residents—activities with clear benefits for the health and well-being of all ages.

Not only will the facility be designed to build community and provide affordable housing and childcare, the space also aligns with another of our key goal areas: whole-person health. Residents will have a space to call home in downtown Bellingham that has a walkability score of 93 out of 100, is located near a grocery store as well as the Bellingham Senior Center. In addition, these last few summers have clearly shown cooling to be a top need in protecting the health of many vulnerable populations. The facility will be all-electric and eventually equipped with solar panels—reducing carbon emissions while providing a safe, affordable place for more of our friends and neighbors to safely learn, grow, and thrive.

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