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WCF / Thrive / Resources

Take a Closer Look

Welcome to our “resource archive,” a growing library of presentations and other materials aimed at sharing a deeper understanding of the challenges our community is facing, and how the Community Foundation is responding.

Affordable Housing

You’ve heard the statistics, but they bear repeating: The median home price in Whatcom County is $575,000. According to housing affordability models, this would require a household income of at least $137,000 to purchase a home. The average household income in our community is about $60,000. For rental housing, a person would need to earn nearly $30/hour ($28.99) for a 2-bedroom place at market rates. Currently, 38% of households that rent in Whatcom County spend more than the recommended maximum of 30% of their income on housing; in Bellingham that figure rises to 58%.

Chances are you understand this reality firsthand, whether as a stunned homeowner or prospective buyer watching prices (and interest rates) climb or a nervous renter — or the parent/friend of one — wondering how much their rent will rise, how far they’ll have to move from their job or how many people they’ll need to live with to make ends meet. Maybe you are or know a business owner wondering how to hire/keep employees who can’t afford to live here, or what to do when a person uses your threshold as a place to shelter or sleep — or a concerned community member faced with people camping out on the streets because they have nowhere else to go.

The housing crisis is real, not just in Whatcom County but in every county. According to research by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is not one county in the United States where a person working full time at the Federal minimum wage can find a place to live for 30% of their income or less. The shortage of affordable places to live costs the American economy about $2 trillion a year in lower wages and productivity. Affordable housing is critical to economic security and mobility.

Emergency Preparedness

In the last three years, our county has endured a global pandemic, a historic flood, a wildfire that has consumed more than 4,000 acres at this writing, and two summers of exceptionally smoky skies from nearby wildfires. Each of these events has unique challenges; all require that we stress test our public and private sector systems, including communication and coordination capabilities.

As a community, we learn from each crisis: we now test wastewater as an indicator of public health. The Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) now exists as a permanent body dedicated to disaster response and recovery. Last month, a coalition of nonprofit agencies launched an online directory of countywide social, human and health resources. Local jurisdictions, to the degree that they can with limited resources, develop and drill resilience plans.

After three major events in three years, these are our three major takeaways:

    1. Those already farthest from opportunity are generally the hardest hit.
    2. We are only as strong as our neighbors, who are often the first to administer (or need) help in a crisis.
    3. Local, philanthropic dollars are the most flexible, first-on-the-scene funding.

Employee Ownership

Retiring baby boomers own half of all the businesses in Washington state. In Whatcom County, there are more than 2,500 businesses with owners 55 and up employing 23,000 people; these businesses represent more than $835 million payroll and nearly $4 billion in revenue. Six out of ten owners in Washington plan to retire and sell their business in the coming decade; as many as one-third won’t find a buyer and will quietly close their doors without capturing the equity their business represents. A small percentage will pass their business to family members. Others will sell to another local owner, and some will find a larger company or out-of-area buyer. This last scenario tends to include job loss and further concentration of wealth.

“One of the most powerful aspects of a worker co-op is this idea that employees, who are also members, not only share in the proceeds of our work, but have a real opportunity to shape the direction of the company, even if their role is not management or leadership based.”

— Patrick Martin, General Manager, A1 Design Build, a worker-owned cooperative

Check out our Ten Facts about Employee Ownership Factsheet.

Neighborliness & Building Connections

Everyone loves a good neighbor. And yet, it’s no secret that record high levels of political and economic polarization continue to drive people apart in ways that undermine relationships and tear at the fabric of civic life.

An equally disturbing, and related, trend is the rising sense of isolation that many people feel. During his first term as U.S. surgeon general (2014-17), Dr. Vivek Murthy identified loneliness as a public health issue. At the time – well before the pandemic and its isolating effects — various studies pegged the nationwide rates of loneliness from 22 % to 50+% percent of adults, with particularly high rates among young adults.

Economic Opportunity | Economic Mobility Starts at Birth

Economic opportunity begins at birth. And even though everyone wants to give their children more and better opportunities than they had, the deck is stacked in favor of babies born to higher-income families who are white, college-educated and thus steeped in “social capital,” i.e., the relationships that give people the ability to act on their aspirations as well as the ability to access benefits. These are the essential factors that predict educational attainment, financial security and even life expectancy.

Food Insecurity

As of June 2022, an estimated 1 in 5 people in Whatcom County is considered “food insecure,” which is defined as a “lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”  Since the child tax credit expired last December and inflation continues to affect gas and food prices, many families are back to choosing between rent, medicine, childcare, work transportation and food – food being the most flexible area to cut. Whatcom food banks are struggling to keep up, experiencing higher than typical use and are facing increased costs related to inflation.

Here’s a list of Whatcom County Food Banks with links to give.

Youth Mental Health

In a class of 30 Whatcom County 10th graders, 21 are dealing with anxiety; 12 are dealing with depression; 6 have contemplated suicide, 5 have made a suicide plan; 2 have attempted suicide. (Healthy Youth Survey 2021).

Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide had been rising steadily for at least a decade before the pandemic, when isolation, uncertainty and grief exacerbated the problem, which has been declared a national emergency by leading pediatric groups and merited a rare advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General in December 2021. Here are some resources from Whatcom County mental health providers and other experts.

Tools & Resources


Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Recovery

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and last year’s historic floods, people in government, nonprofits, healthcare, as well as countless good neighbors across our community have done heroic work. And yet? We can do better.

As the Community Foundation, along with government and nonprofit partners, navigates the remaining relief and recovery processes related to the pandemic and the floods, we are also working to improve preparedness and coordination in anticipation of future events, knowing that different types of disasters require varied response.

Resource Library

The Whatcom Community Foundation produces its THRIVE newsletter 3-4 times annually, using this platform to provide topical updates on crucial topics impacting out communities.

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