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Posted on: September 10, 2021

Port Moves Forward on Affordable Workforce and Family Housing and Local Food Campus Project

The Port has approved an option to sell 3.3 acres of property on Bellingham’s downtown waterfront to Mercy Housing Northwest and The Millworks LLC to develop an affordable workforce and family housing project and local food campus.  The option lasts until December 31, 2022 allowing the organizations time to work with donors, investors and lenders to secure the financing necessary to complete the purchase and sale agreement.    

“This community led project is an amazing vision for Bellingham’s downtown waterfront” said Port Commission President Ken Bell.  “It adds much needed affordable housing with an early learning center and food campus designed to help Whatcom County farmers create value-added products and supply local restaurants.  A commercial kitchen located within the food campus will support small business owners like food trucks and catering services which make Bellingham an increasingly vibrant and interesting place to live and visit.”  

The proposed project includes over 70 affordable housing units, a multi-classroom early learning center, and a 50,000 square foot campus focused on local food and agricultural product processing, business incubation and workforce training. 

“The Bellingham community is important to Mercy Housing Northwest and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to deepen our commitment here. This project would not be possible without partnership,” shared Joe Thompson, President of Mercy Housing Northwest. “We applaud the City of Bellingham, The Whatcom Community Foundation and the Port of Bellingham for their strong support of affordable housing and its critical importance in creating diverse, equitable and welcoming communities.  This project will provide much needed affordable, family sized housing coupled with Mercy Housing Northwest’s robust resident services to help families meet today’s needs and achieve tomorrow’s dreams.”

Mercy Housing Northwest is a long-established affordable housing provider in the greater Whatcom community. The Millworks development would be Mercy Housing Northwest’s 8th in Whatcom County and 5th in Bellingham. Construction of the affordable workforce and family housing project and local food campus is anticipated to begin in 2023.Once this project is complete, Mercy will be a provider of nearly 300 affordable homes for families and seniors in Bellingham, and nearly 400 homes in Whatcom overall.  

The site of the proposed project is part of the traditional and ancestral lands of the Coast Salish people. The site was formerly used by Georgia-Pacific as a Lignin Warehouse to support its Pulp and Paper Mill.   After the Pulp Mill shut down, the Port acquired all of Georgia-Pacific’s heavy industrial property on Bellingham’s downtown waterfront to clean-up historic contamination, rebuild the waterfront economy, increase public access and connect downtown to the water. 

In 2019, the Port was awarded a Healthy Housing Grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology and Department of Commerce to evaluate the site for environmental considerations and plan for affordable housing and an associated food campus.  The grant was intended to make it easier for affordable housing developers to redevelop once-contaminated properties into housing that communities can afford.

The Port’s overall redevelopment plan for Bellingham’s downtown waterfront incorporates a variety of uses including parks and open space, commercial mixed-use, residential, marine-trades and light industrial. 

Millworks LLC Manager and Whatcom Community Foundation President and CEO Mauri Ingram added, “Millworks is designed to help address several of the community’s most urgent and important challenges and opportunities in ways that will continue to generate a host of community benefits for generations to come. It’s a fusion of community and economic development, building on community history – starting with that of the Coast Salish People – and community assets, leveraging the skills and strengths of multiple partners, thinking creatively, and keeping the community at the center of every decision.”

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