Bellwether Housing Programs
Triple Bottom Line
For more than thirty years Bellwether has functioned below the radar, growing steadily and helping other nonprofits develop apartments, providing triple bottom-line benefits to Seattle neighborhoods:
- Social – as families and individuals are able to afford rent, their stresses recede, their children succeed in school, they can save for the future, their communities thrive.
- Economic – employers experience less absence and turnover when working people live near jobs and transit, and business thrives when people have more discretionary income.
- Environmental – people who live near jobs, transit and services drive less, air quality is better and roads are less congested.
Bellwether helps low-wage working people and low-income seniors by providing apartments at rents they can afford. The need for affordable housing is evident; currently one out of five Seattle renters pays between 50% and 75% of income on rent. With a portfolio of 29 properties and 1,880 apartments throughout Seattle, Bellwether focuses on serving households with incomes ranging from 0% to 80% of Area Median Income (from minimum wage to approximately $20 per hour depending on household size). In addition, Bellwether continues to develop apartments, for its own portfolio as well as on behalf of other nonprofit organizations. In 2013, Bellwether will renovate one apartment building in Seattle for its own portfolio, and will provide development services on behalf of other nonprofit organizations.
Bellwether manages 1,880 apartments in 29 properties throughout Seattle. Bellwether provides apartments affordable to working people, families and seniors, so they can pay rent and still have money for groceries, medical care, child care and other necessities. In addition, its buildings are near jobs, services and public transit - making it convenient for residents with low-wage jobs in the service, retail and hospitality sectors to avoid the expense and time involved in commuting by car.
Bellwether specializes in the development of affordable apartments using innovative and supportable financial arrangements and sustainable construction practices. Bellwether’s skilled housing development team builds or purchases and renovates apartment buildings that will provide affordable rents for at least 50 years, for Bellwether's portfolio and for those of other nonprofit organizations (primarily providers of supportive housing for people with special needs). Bellwether is proud to have developed excellent affordable apartments for many community partners including Downtown Emergency Service Center, YWCA, Sound Mental Health, Building Changes (formerly AIDS Housing of Washington), Catholic Housing Services and Mt. Baker Housing Association. Since its founding in 1980, Bellwether has developed 59 apartment buildings, 29 of which it owns and/or manages as of 2013.
While Bellwether does not provide direct services, it is committed to helping its residents be as stable and successful as possible in their new affordable apartments. Bellwether's Resident Services Manager works with eleven nonprofit partners who provide supportive services to 79 households with special needs, including 43 apartments for families transitioning out of homelessness. In addition Bellwether operates four buildings dedicated to low-income senior and disabled households who are able to live independently. Bellwether’s Resident Services Manager is a liaison between building management employees and resources that support residents with special needs.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
Increased Demand for Affordable Apartments
The economic shifts have resulted in lower incomes for many families and individuals, so the demand for affordable apartments is much greater than the supply. By expanding its portfolio, Bellwether has been able to provide more people with affordable places to live. In 2012, Bellwether celebrated the opening of First & Vine Apartments in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood - adding 82 renovated apartments for low-income seniors and people with disabilities, and ensuring that the building remain affordable for many years to come.
Bellwether has been recognized for its leadership in the affordable housing community, as well as its commitment to the environment. In 2008 Bellwether was named the "Greenest Nonprofit in Washington State" by Washington CEO Magazine. Also in 2008, the Downtown Seattle Association awarded Bellwether with its "Downtown Legacy Award" for its leadership in transforming Downtown Seattle to a vibrant community where people at all income levels can afford to live. Additionally, Bellwether has been a leader in environmentally sustainable building practices. Bellwether completed the first project in the region to be awarded a LEED© Silver Certification (a national environmental accreditation). Bellwether also completed the development of Kenyon House on behalf of Sound Mental Health and Building Changes. The project was awarded LEED© Platinum for Homes Certification - the first Platinum accreditation in the region. In 2012, Bellwether joined Seattle 2030 District and pledged to meet the District's goals of a reduction in energy and water usage below the national average by 2015.
In 2011, Bellwether instituted a smoke-free policy for all its buildings. The policy improved air quality throughout all the buildings, giving Bellwether residents the opportunity for improved health. Clear and consistent communication among residents and Bellwether property management employees resulted in a smooth transition to the new policy. In addition, Bellwether’s operational budget will eventually benefit, as apartment turnover expenses will decrease.
Diversified Revenue Sources
For several years the Bellwether team has recognized that public funding for purchase, preservation, and development of affordable apartments would decrease. In 2012 this reduction was highly evident, resulting in fewer affordable housing projects being funded and less revenue for nonprofits from fees associated with those projects. Bellwether’s strategy to diversify revenues has been particularly helpful this year; Board and staff members have made progress on strategies to increase fundraising, earn more fees for services, reduce expenses, and identify alternative equity resources for future development projects.
Telling the Bellwether Story to More People
One of Bellwether’s strategies is to increase its visibility among business leaders in order to broaden support in the community. In 2010 and 2011, board and staff members refined the statement of what Bellwether provides in the community, resulting in a description of the triple bottom-line benefit (social, economic and environmental) of affordable apartments near jobs, transit and services. In October 2012 Bellwether held its second annual fundraising breakfast, emphasizing the triple bottom line. The event surpassed fundraising goals, and more important, it drew a substantial audience of new and current friends and supporters.
Decreased Government Support
Recent governmental budget cuts have increased the burden on nonprofit affordable housing organizations and Bellwether is no exception. As a result, Bellwether is expanding into a broader range of neighborhoods in order to respond to this demand. It recently purchased property in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Once developed, it will offer another option to potential residents, near transit, jobs and services. To learn more about how you can support Bellwether Housing, please visit our website, www.bellwetherhousing.org or send an e-mail to Julie Lombardo at firstname.lastname@example.org.