"Changing everything might sound daunting, but it also means there are many places to start, infinite opportunities to collaborate, and endless imaginative interventions and experiments to create… Let’s ask, ‘what can we imagine for ourselves and the world?’ If we do that, then boundless possibilities of a more just world await us."
Housing Is a Human Right
We need bold and creative solutions to address the lack of affordable housing and accessible shelter in our community. Bellingham needs to Stop the sweeps immediately. The current city “camp clean-up” policy is destructive and dehumanizing. To increase Affordable Housing our municipal code needs to be updated with zoning that requires affordable units and encourages higher density. The city should invest in mixed-income public housing that is located close to services. We can Protect renters with initiatives like People First Bellingham’s Rent Relocation Assistance initiative. Over 53% of renters in Whatcom County are cost burdened with rent and 20% of households live with extreme housing problems like lack of kitchens and plumbing, overcrowding and safety issues. Not only do we need to protect renters, but we need to find ways to increase home-ownership like investing in land trusts and co-housing models. For our neighbors without housing, we need accessible shelters that are secular and safe with wrap-around services that uplift and support in the ways people want to be supported. Safe campsites and tiny home villages are part of the housing solution. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to shelter and housing. We need to meet people where they are with solutions that acknowledge their humanity and center harm reduction and trauma informed care.
The climate crisis is here and we must act swiftly in order to protect the water and land we all depend on. The Coast Salish tribes have been stewards of this land for millenia. Bellingham needs to focus on collaborating with the Lahq’temish and Nooksack to protect our waterways and salmon habitats while learning about and incorporating Indigenous ways of knowledge in how we interact with our planet. Clean drinking water can be maintained by protecting and restoring shorelines, increasing vegetation buffers and protecting carbon sinks like eel grass and other wetlands. Limiting motor boat use on Lake Whatcom and enhancing the visibility of the range of incentive programs available for shoreline property owners. We need to document and educate our community on the impacts of logging on our water sources and increase testing for quality in our watershed. Effecting and improving stormwater management for fresh and marine waters through local and federal grants will support the health of our waters. Electrification is the only way forward and Bellingham can lead by example with retrofitting older municipal buildings to replace natural gas with electric, requiring new buildings to only use electric, and supporting residents and small businesses with grants and permitting to transition to renewable energy. In building sustainable solutions for our planet and our workers, access to affordable education programs, job retraining, and apprenticeships means we’re investing in our future.
Community Safety and Wellness
Without a network of support and a safe community, families and individuals cannot thrive. We need to allocate funding from law enforcement to invest in supportive programs that protect and nourish our community like violence interruption programs, public spaces, community centers, childcare and youth programming. A disproportionate amount of Bellingham’s resources are spent on law enforcement, leaving these programs inadequately funded. Alternative crisis responses should be designed hand in hand with community members who are most impacted by police violence. Decisions made about community safety and law enforcement should be fully transparent and accessible to the people of Bellingham. Increasing access to mental health services makes our community stronger. We need to invest in no-cost, low-barrier point-of-service social care infrastructure, wellness resources, and training for our healthcare professionals and community members. The current model is unsustainable and unjust as Whatcom County’s incarceration rates are higher than Washington state with 60% of people being held in jail due to the inability to pay their bond and disproportionately affects BIPOC communities. In 2016 Native Americans made up 14% of Whatcom’s jail population and Black people made up 7%, despite comprising only 4% and 2% of our County’s general population, respectively.
Racial Justice and Economic Justice
The wealth gap continues to increase, leaving behind thousands of renters and working families, with the largest health and social disparities found in BIPOC communities. We need to implement progressive revenue practices so the wealthy are paying more than working families, who are impacted most by our regressive tax structure. Truth and Reconciliation starts with acknowledging the violence against Indigenous peoples and People of Color that occurred on this land and using it as a lens in how we move forward towards an anti-racist society. We need to make space for authentic conversation with Native American leaders and work together to identify clear actions we can take towards reconciliation. Through mentorship programs and hiring practices we can encourage a more diverse representation in our administration and who we work with. Dismantling systems of oppression has to go beyond reading books, we need to be building relationships with one another and investing in community spaces. To stabilize and grow minority owned businesses, the city can streamline certification processes, provide training and educational opportunities, employ inclusive contracting and procurement practices, and work with local partners to provide funding and technical assistance. Bellingham can invest directly in grassroots, community-based organizations that are already working with historically excluded communities to ensure their presence and positive impact in Bellingham.
Transparency and Accessibility
We need to make more space for the people of Bellingham to have a say in how our city works. Democracy means that everyone has access to how we develop policy, create revenue, and form a budget. We have the responsibility to ensure historically excluded voices are actively welcomed and included in the process. Direct participation is necessary in creating effective policy and it can only be effective if it is accessible to everyone. We need to examine who isn’t at the table and how we can make space for them-whether it is language access, ADA protocol, childcare, scheduling, literacy, or safety. Implementing participatory budgeting gives power to the people in identifying community needs and how to spend revenue towards solutions. Democracy with informed participants requires Transparency. Making sure information is available in a consistent and accessible way, improves accountability of our government and empowers the community to get involved with the decisions that affect us all.