Unity Village Tiny Home Community Proposed for Fairhaven

HomesNOW is in the permit review process for a temporary tiny home encampment in Fairhaven. The City of Bellingham’s 14-day public comment period is open until June 14, 2019.

HomesNOW is in the permit review process for a temporary tiny home encampment in Fairhaven. The City of Bellingham’s 14-day public comment period is open until June 14, 2019.

• Topics: Bellingham,

Bellingham non-profit HomesNOW is in the midst of the permit review process for a temporary tiny home encampment in Fairhaven. The City of Bellingham published a notice of application for the project with a 14-day public comment period open until June 14, 2019.

HomesNOW (full name HomesNOW! Not Later) founders Jim Peterson and Doug Gustafson created the 501(c)(3) to support people in Bellingham and Whatcom County who are homeless, in the process of getting back on their feet, and to help them find permanent housing. The group is all-volunteer and privately funded, supported by individuals, businesses, and churches in our area.

To date, the organization has created and successfully managed two temporary tent communities for homeless people in Bellingham. The first, Winter Haven, was located in the parking lot behind Bellingham’s City Hall for 90 days, ending on April 6, 2019. The current temporary tent community, Safe Haven, is located in the Sunnyland neighborhood at 620 Alabama St. in part of the 911 Call Center parking lot.

The Fairhaven Unity Village location is proposed for 210 McKenzie Ave. and will have 20 tiny homes, completed in phases. HomesNOW will start with 12 tiny homes and eight tents, as more tiny homes are built, tents will be removed. HomesNOW intends to build and manage the Unity Village tiny home community in accordance with Ordinance No. 2018-10-019, Bellingham Municipal Code, permit requirements, Washington state laws and regulations, and Whatcom County Health Department regulations. The project will take approximately eight months to complete, ending in April 2020.

As with their other locations, Unity Village will be a drug-and-alcohol-free community. Unity Village is intended to provide a safe and stable place for homeless individuals to live while they actively seek permanent housing. Unity Village residents will likely consist of people who are either working or disabled and who have a source of income. Unity Village residents will be selected based on their ability to succeed in a community living setting.

Two public meetings have been held to share information with Fairhaven residents and other interested people in our community and to field questions and comments. I attended the public meeting at the Fairhaven Library on June 4th. Jim Peterson spoke about the ongoing mission of HomesNOW, the details of the transition from tents to tiny homes, and gave an overview of the Fairhaven Unity Village project. Document copies of both the Unity Village Proposal and the Handbook & Code of Conduct for Unity Village were available to meeting attendees. You can access those documents here: homesnow.org/unity-village.

Rachel Duval, liason to the HomesNOW Board, also spoke. Rachel was a former resident of Winter Haven and after just three weeks there, she was able to move into permanent housing. She explained that once a person is homeless, whatever the cause, it is very difficult to find a path back into normal life. A homeless person has often lost confidence and needs help to re-establish their self-esteem and contribute to the community. Rachel said she now feels more confident and has a sense of accomplishment and pride thanks to the help she received from HomesNOW.

The Housing First model has been used successfully in many
cities in the U.S. and around the world. Once someone is housed and can experience a sense of stability and comfort, the benefits received from support services (help from a social worker, healthcare, mental health care) are much more likely to be effective long-term.

Meeting attendees participated by sharing their comments and questions. A question was asked about the background check criteria used by the Bellingham Police Department to screen prospective residents. Police Chief Doll explained that those with outstanding warrants, on the sex offender registry, or those with repeat offenses even without warrants would not be cleared to live in a HomesNOW community. HomesNOW representatives have weekly check-in meetings with Chief Doll, COB Planning and Community Development Director Rick Sepler, and a representative from the Bellingham mayor’s office. Chief Doll praised HomesNOW and Peterson for taking his recommendations on whether or not an individual would make a suitable HomesNOW community resident. Peterson did note that approximately 20% of homeless people do not want help. HomesNOW focuses on those who do want help and are willing to step-up, take more responsibility, and help themselves.

Chief Doll said tent communities have been a positive addition to the neighborhoods for a number of reasons including the fact that crime rates have gone down around the HomesNOW locations. Doll also said, “Take the most skeptical person in this room and multiple that by 100 and that was me before we started to work with HomesNow.” He went on to explain how the HomesNOW team, volunteers, and residents have won him over. He commended HomesNOW for doing what they said they were going to do and being a responsible and good partner with the city, BPD, and neighborhoods. Sunnyland area residents gave glowing testimonials about the addition of Safe Haven to that neighborhood.

Planning Director Rick Sepler addressed questions about why the Fairhaven location was chosen. He explained that many city-owned locations were considered. Some were not available for the needed project duration and others were deemed unsuitable for various reasons. One Fairhaven resident asked why the Fairhaven location was chosen when HomesNOW’s goal is to move people into permanent housing and Unity Village residents could never afford to live in Fairhaven. The answer is that tiny home community residents will end up finding permanent housing in many different areas, not specifically in the neighborhoods where Unity Village or Safe Haven are located. Sepler mentioned that the first community, Winter Haven, was two blocks from his home and it was a positive addition to the neighborhood. He also said that we are all a part of this greater community of all neighborhoods.

A couple of Fairhaven residents expressed frustration that the Planning Department had not given more public notice of the June 4th meeting and a longer comment period.

To answer other questions, HomesNOW shared that they pay utility costs at their various locations and the organization carries $1 million worth of liability insurance. Residents and volunteers receive various training and support including de-escalation training from the police department. Residents take turns participating in the self-governance and day-to-day operations by taking roles as deputy mayor, security, kitchen manager, and office administration. The community holds weekly resident meetings. People can visit and request a tour of Safe Haven at 620 Alabama St. from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 7 days a week.

As of 2018, there are over 800 homeless people in Whatcom County and many are forced to illegally camp on public or private property or sleep in their cars. Homeless people lack access to basic human necessities, including bathrooms, showers, drinking water, cooking facilities, garbage services, etc. Many people who are homeless are forced to carry all of their belongings with them at all times, which often prevents them from being able to seek employment. The proposed Unity Village project provides a safe legal place for our homeless neighbors to live. Unity Village will give access to basic human necessities, such as shelter, bathroom and kitchen facilities, garbage/recycling service, as well as a sense of safety and community. Unity Village will also serve as a central location for service providers to meet with residents to determine their individual needs.

I read the full permit application for Unity Village as well as the thorough Code of Conduct Handbook. I was struck by the realization that the expectations about behavior and the rules for these tent and tiny home community residents are much stricter and more limiting than rules and regulations renters or homeowners would ever be required to follow.

Unity Village Permit Application:

Comments on the Unity Village permit must be received by Friday, June 14, 2019. Send written comments to: Lisa Pool, COB Senior Planner - lapool@cob.org

Lack of affordable housing for people of many different income levels continues to be one of the primary challenges faced by Bellingham and Whatcom County. Bellingham, with various partners, continues to work on supporting more development of affordable housing.

Please consider donating to HomesNow.org so they can raise the $70,000 needed to build 20 tiny homes. HomesNOW plans to move these tiny homes permanently to a plot of land (when that is located and secured) and to create more permanent tiny home communities in the future. Then the need to move temporary tent or tiny home encampments from site to site will, hopefully, be eliminated. It takes a village.

About Lisa E. Papp

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since Jan 22, 2018

Lisa is a long-time resident of Washington state and Whatcom County. She is a solar energy advisor helping homeowners in Washington and other U.S. states add solar power to [...]

Comments by Readers

Jamie K. Donaldson

Jun 11, 2019

Thank you, Lisa, for this succinct yet thorough overview of the Unity Village proposal.  I am 100% in favor of this project which will be located in my neighborhood next to the offices of the water treatment plant on McKenzie Street in Fairhaven.  I must admit that when I heard about Unity Village, my first thought was to wonder what impact, if any, the village and its residents would have on the nearby Great Blue Heron colony.  I pondered that for, oh, maybe six seconds.  I’d be a hypocrite to be concerned for herons and NOT fellow residents who are experiencing homelessness.  Besides, I’m looking forward to meeting everyone residing  at Unity Village and introducing them to their non-human neighbors—the herons!  My prediction is that everyone will get along swimmingly.

On a less positive note, I left the two pubic meetings on the Unity Village proposal feeling saddened by several of the comments made by concerned neighbors.  Some ugly things were said about the prospective residents of the tiny homes village.  While I can certainly understand fear of the unknown, this can be overcome with a bit of effort fo read through the entire HomesNow proposal, visit the current location in Sunnyland, ask questions of city staff and HomesNow volunteers, and try to avoid painting all unhoused people as violent, drugged up losers who made their beds and must now search for one to sleep in.



Lisa E. Papp

Jun 11, 2019

Thanks for the comment, Jamie, and for your support of HomesNow. Perhaps it is true that people fear what they do not understand…and do not experience. I encourage people with questions and concerns to visit HomesNow’s Safe Haven community, ask for a tour, and meet and speak with some residents and with Jim Peterson. These are our neighbors. And the herons are important too! Thanks for your article and advocacy there.


jim peterson

Jun 12, 2019

Thank you Lisa for writting this article. I encourage anyone that has concerns or wants to know more to visit Safe Haven at 620 Alabama st enter from texas street or you can email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) . To the residents its not so much about the tents or tiny homes it is about being in a safe stable place where they dont have to pack up everything they own everyday and carry it with them where ever they go. 


Tip Johnson

Jun 13, 2019

I think these camps are a great transitional housing resource and thank Homes Now for their persistence and hard work.  However, I’m not sure that location is well suited.  I would advise looking up the lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium levels coming out of the Post Point wastewater treatment plant incinerators.  Summer winds trend westerly, directly toward the proposed camp


John Servais

Jun 14, 2019

The Fairhaven business owners in the historic district have sent a letter this afternoon to the city planning department in support of the Unity Village tiny home project.   The Historic Fairhaven Association Board of Directors sent the following, and it speaks for itself.

The Historic Fairhaven Association Board of Directors is in support of the temporary permit for Unity Village at its proposed location of 210 McKenzie Ave., Bellingham.  Since our primary concerns are for the safety, cleanliness, and vitality of the Fairhaven business district and neighborhoods and because of the support and involvement of city planning and the police department, and the track record of management by Homes Now, we feel confident that Unity Village will be a neutral, or even positive, addition to Fairhaven.  We are impressed with the standards for operation proposed for Unity Village as outlined at homesnow.org. The application process includes offsite screening so that members are hand-picked based on their likelihood to succeed in a community living setting and express a desire to improve their lives by abiding to set standards. The HFA Board sees the value in this residential community for which the applicants must qualify, be selected and will be held accountable.

We wish to welcome Unity Village to Fairhaven.


Wynne Lee

Jun 29, 2019

I support our finding homes for those unfortunately homeless. But I wonder if tiny homes are environmentally the best option? I guess they are the Great New Thing and of course in the Great American Tradition of separate homes for each family/person surrounded by (no matter how little) open space.

Wouldn’t apartments with shared walls etc would be more energy and land  efficient if properly built and insulated, shared water, plumbing and heating systems?

Maybe it’s just too doggone hard here to get simple, small apartment built? Easier to find one small home atva time? Too many fears of low income housing ‘projects’, though it sounds like all the usual fears are hitting the Tiny Homes project, too.

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