rendering of a 4 story building with windows

Two Major Milestones for Trailblazing Millworks on Bellingham Waterfront

Port of Bellingham and City of Bellingham officials gathered with leaders from Mercy Housing Northwest, Whatcom Community Foundation and their design and construction team last Friday, April 14 to celebrate the Phase 1 groundbreaking of Whatcom County’s first Community Benefit project.

The Millworks is a two-phase, mixed-use development that includes permanently affordable apartments and childcare near jobs and schools, infrastructure to support local food and farming production, business incubation and nonprofit office areas, along with public gathering spaces designed to foster community and inclusion.

“Unlike a typical development project, which prioritizes financial profit for owners, Community Benefit projects focus on community value,” explains Whatcom Community Foundation president and CEO Mauri Ingram. “While community benefit projects don’t forgo financial return, they prioritize community dividends as measured in areas like strengthening the local economy and improving environmental and human health and wellbeing.”

83 affordable rental homes by Mercy Housing Northwest

Whatcom Community Foundation is the master developer of the Millworks. Phase 1 encompasses 83 affordable apartments developed by Mercy Housing Northwest, which owns and manages what will soon be eight housing properties in Whatcom County for households with low incomes and is recognized for its resident-centered approach to improving household stability and security. The Whatcom Family YMCA will operate early childhood care and education services for about 100 children. Phase 1 construction is underway with occupancy scheduled for 2024.

Port authorizes next phase

At the Port Commission meeting earlier in the week, commissioners unanimously voted in favor of an authorization to proceed with Phase 2 of the project. Currently in design, Phase 2 adds more than 80 workforce housing units to the site, including some that will be available for ownership, as well as the local food campus, event space and more. Construction is expected to begin in 2025.

Before casting his yes vote, Commissioner Michael Shephard noted his enthusiasm for the variety in the waterfront district that the Millworks represents.

“The Millworks brings in a different element that is going to activate the space in a different way, activate jobs in a different way and give people a different way to live and work down on the waterfront. This area is going to look dynamically different in just a few years.”

The Community Benefit Development Model

Community benefit projects are typically premised on a legally binding agreement between a developer and one or more community-based organizations that details the project’s contributions to the community. First used in the late 1990s, the concept was developed in response to large institutional or for-profit development where displacement and other community harms have arisen for decades without consequence or remedy. In the case of the Millworks, since the developer exists to provide public benefits, no agreement is required. Instead, Whatcom Community Foundation is showcasing the community benefits model with the intent of reporting progress on stated goals back to the community.