April 28, 2022
Funds secured for affordable housing on Port waterfront
Lauren Gallup

Work is progressing on an affordable housing project at Barkley Village, one of several completed or ongoing in the Bellingham area. Construction could begin this year for another: The Millworks, a multi-partner project planned for Port of Bellingham property near the waterfront. (Amy Nelson photo © 2022)

April 28, 2022
Funds secured for affordable housing on Port waterfront
Lauren Gallup

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Mercy Housing Northwest, developers of the affordable housing project planned for the Port of Bellingham waterfront, has secured funding through the Washington State Housing Trust Fund. 

The housing project is part of The Millworks development at a 3.3-acre Georgia Pacific redevelopment site at the intersection of Laurel and Cornwall streets being sold by the port for $2 million.

The $5 million grant from the state adds to the $3 million and $2.5 million committed by the City of Bellingham and the Whatcom Community Foundation (WCF), respectively. Total project cost estimate is $50 million.

WCF is the master developer of The Millworks, which will contain 70 to 90 units of affordable housing, according to the foundation. Mercy Housing is the housing developer and, in partnership with Whatcom County YMCA, will include a childcare learning center with seven classrooms and 5,000-square feet of play space.

Mercy Housing Northwest has an established track record in this area, including the Eleanor Apartments in Bellingham which opened in 2017. The building provides 80 units of affordable housing to senior community members.

The organization owns and operates a total of 54 properties in Washington and Idaho, according to their website, including nine in Whatcom and Skagit counties. Barkley Family Housing in Bellingham’s Barkley Village will have 77 units of affordable housing and an early learning center classroom when it opens this year.

Rob Fix, executive director of the port, said via email that once the property is purchased, the port will monitor the development, “to ensure it fits in with the plans for the balance of the site.” The sale agreement will govern the port’s role, and Fix said that is still being negotiated.  

Fix said The Millworks must meet some of the housing needs and achieve high density development. 

Construction start this year

Ellen Lohe, senior housing developer with Mercy Housing, said that the funding secured will allow the project to move forward and begin construction by the end of this year. She said via email that the team is working to advance design, permitting and construction estimates this summer.

An affordable housing project on Port of Bellingham property is expected to add around 83 homes. The property is at Cornwall Avenue and W. Laurel Street, adjacent to downtown Bellingham. (Amy Nelson photo © 2022)

Fix said the port wants the projects to be aesthetically pleasing and wants the housing to remain affordable for residents. 

“I think there’s really a shared goal between the port and the community foundation, Mercy and other folks in the community to really see this site be used for community use,” Lohe said.

Now that Mercy Housing has secured state funding, cleanup of the port’s site can begin with the state Department of Ecology’s oversight. 

Brian Gouran, the port’s environment and planning services manager, said the port plans to release a cleanup action plan and a consent decree— a legal agreement with Ecology— this June for public comment. The decree will be filed in court and settle environmental liability once cleanup is complete. Deliverables from the decree include design documents, construction completion and monitoring, Gouran said.

Gouran said cleanup is projected to be completed in fall and is estimated to cost between $2.6 million and $3 million.

The other portion of The Millworks will be a food campus, with a commercial kitchen for Bellingham Public Schools, a food warehouse space and community kitchen. 

Early days for food campus

The food campus is still in the early planning stages.

Sukanya Paciorek, director of special projects at WCF, explained that Mercy Housing has gone first to secure funding for their portion of the project. Each freestanding building will need to secure its own funding. 

There is still work left to be done on the food campus feasibility study, building design and financing.

Logistically, Paciorek said they are still determining where would be the best fit for the food campus and allow space for trucks to bring in large quantities of food. 

“We don’t want to overload the site with too much use that encumbers Mercy’s ability to have a great housing experience for people that are living there,” Paciorek said.

The concept for the food campus is still alive and well, Paciorek said, and the community foundation has been working with area food banks, the school district and others to determine the best iteration of the project. 

—Reported by Lauren Gallup

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