Now celebrating their 20th Anniversary in Whatcom County, Kulshan Community Land Trust (KulshanCLT) supports permanent affordable homeownership by holding land in trust and offering financial and education services to people of limited means. But many don’t realize that the program benefits extend well beyond the individual homeowner.
When KulshanCLT helps working families become homeowners, they’re investing in a shared future. KulshanCLT homeowners go on to become civic leaders and start businesses that provide jobs for others and give back to the community. Their pride of homeownership means they maintain their homes, improving the safety, beauty and economic well-being of their neighborhoods. They make friends and their children stay in school, get better grades, get involved in activities, and foster life-long friendships.
“It’s comforting to know that the homes we are creating today will still be affordable in 99 years and beyond—that these homes will serve family after family, for generations, and allow many others in our community to put down roots and get involved,” says KulshanCLT Executive Director Dean Fearing.
Many KulshanCLT homeowners have gone on to become community leaders in Whatcom County. They say it’s because of help from KulshanCLT—and the economic independence and stability—that they’ve focused their energy not on scraping by, but on improving and supporting their community. These three KulshanCLT homeowners have gone on and continue to do incredible things for the Whatcom County community and beyond. They are just three among more than 130 families helped over the last 20 years by KulshanCLT and among the hundreds that the organizations plans to support in the years ahead.
Dan Hammill first bought his Sunnyland Neighborhood home with KulshanCLT help in 2006 where he lives now with his wife, long-time Bellingham School Board Director Kelly Bashaw.
Hammill has served the community and the City of Bellingham in various capacities for almost two decades, including co-founding United Way of Whatcom County’s Bellingham/Whatcom Project Homeless Connect and other public programs for the homeless.
“Being a KulshanCLT homeowner is at the core of how I was able to give back to the community as a Program Director at the Volunteer Center for nine years, continuing on to start my own businesses and eventually becoming a Bellingham City Councilmember,” says Hammill.
Hammill has now been on more than 20 boards or commissions – most of those in the last three or four years.
To me, the stability and predictability of homeownership allows you to continue your community investment with organizations that are so vital to residents here,” he says.
Kendra Meyer, her husband Travis, and six-year-old daughter, Reece, were a single-income family when they bought their Columbia neighborhood home in 2014 with KulshanCLT’s help. Within a year, Meyer joined the KulshanCLT Board, and then became a part-time Outreach Coordinator of the Land Trust. Meyer’s years of prior experience at Habitat for Humanity of Whatcom County made her a perfect fit.
KulshanCLT’s bylaws stipulate that a third of their board must be homeowners, another third should be members, and the final third come from the public. This mandate ensures stewardship of the homes in trust for generations to come.
Stable homeownership has allowed Meyer to serve KulshanCLT families and also stay active in Reece’s school community. “I’m now on the board of the Parkview Elementary parent’s organization and serve as the Family Support person,” she says. “That means I help families connect with services, deliver food bank boxes, and last winter I coordinated the holiday gift program that put smiles on the faces of 86 Parkview Elementary students.”
Alex Ramel and his son Alden were among KulshanCLT’s first wave of homebuyers in 2003. Ramel served on KulshanCLT’s Board of Directors for six years and was President for several. He’s putting that experience to good use now. For six years, he served as the Energy and Policy Director of Sustainable Connections, leading the Community Energy Challenge, part of a national movement to create green jobs and improve energy efficiency in hundreds of small businesses and thousands of homes in Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan Counties.
In 2018, Ramel ran as the Washington State Representative in the 40th District. Though he did not win the seat, he continues to advocate for people and the environment through his work with Stand.earth, formerly known as ForestEthics, an environmental organization that challenges corporations and governments to treat people and the environment with respect.
“KulshanCLT is an important part of our story of home,” he says. “The stability and chance to gain equity afforded by homeownership enabled us to really put down roots in this community. When homes are affordable, people have the ability to thrive and to give back.”
Lots More Ahead in 2019 and Beyond
Through a partnership between KulshanCLT, Habitat for Humanity of Whatcom County and the Whatcom Community Foundation’s (WCFs) Threshold Fund, they broke ground on Phase I of the Telegraph Townhomes Project, in June 2018.
These townhomes will be priced for residents who earn 30-80% area median income (AMI) range, with mortgages as low as $350 per month and energy bills as low as $25 per month. That translates to a mortgage of just $100,000 to $175,000 for two- or three-bedroom townhomes. That is in stark contrast to the average home sale price in Whatcom County of more than $420,000.
WCF’s Threshold Fund puts philanthropic dollars to work by guaranteeing construction loans for affordable housing projects. Gifts to the fund help significantly reduce the cost of capital, which means more safe, stable, affordable homes may be built for Whatcom neighbors for less money. Even more exciting, the funds can be used over and over again.
In 2019, KulshanCLT will also expand their work in the Birchwood neighborhood, continuing to work with the community to create a vision for three acres purchased in 2017 near Birchwood Elementary. Their goal is to build a community of 12 to 16 homes, joining their 20 existing homes in the area, plus a small farm. That work could also include placemaking—establishing the spaces that support the gathering and building of community—such as a farm stand, coffee shop or community center.
“Community is a key element of the land trust model and we appreciate this opportunity to create something exciting with the Birchwood Community,” says Fearing.
Fearing has also been active on behalf of KulshanCLT in Olympia, meeting with state representatives and the Washington State Senate Committee on Affordable Housing. He is educating them on the role of land trusts, the importance of Housing Trust Fund dollars for homeownership and asking for their support on senate bills that help address the current housing crisis.
“When I become alarmed by the current housing crisis, I think about all that KulshanCLT is doing to help,” he says. “I remember that each of our 127+ 99-year Ground Leases will renew automatically every 99 years after that.
And even though staff and homeowners will change over the decades, Fearing stresses that there will always be stewards at the helm of this organization and the community to ensure there are homes hardworking families can afford in Whatcom County.
“What a profound legacy we are creating today, together.”