That we don’t think about

By Nancy Larsen, Whatcom Skagit Housing executive director

To prepare for a seminar at the Housing Washington convention in Spokane in 2010 I calculated the dollars Whatcom Skagit Housing spent through the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program in Whatcom and Skagit counties where we operate. What I soon learned was that the amount was overwhelming, especially in 2010 when residential construction here was almost at a standstill. As I recall, many times that year when our construction manager, Larry Soderberg, went to buy supplies for eight to 10 houses, he would be the only customer in the store. Since then, I have kept track of this information because I feel it’s important. Unfortunately, I did not keep the 2011 records, but I have figures from 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014, that I’m sharing with you here. The amount spent on both construction supplies and services and also on wages and office related expenses in those four years averages out to more than $2 million each year.

The program benefits, such as pride through homeownership, sense of community and safer neighborhoods, are always the ones we read about in relation to the mutual self-help program. The things we seldom emphasize are the following:

1) The economic impact our program has on our local community from construction related purchases, jurisdiction (building permits, inspection fees, impact fees) and employee related expenses.

2) The return on investment USDA-Rural Development and the local jurisdictions have on the 523 Grant operating dollars. For example, our grant is $1,038,000 for two years, making our annual budget $519,000. For that federal government “investment,” Whatcom County benefits four-fold.

3) When we build our 18 homes a year, those homes go onto the annual real estate tax rolls of the two counties we operate in, thus increasing annual revenue in property taxes.

4) When those 18 homeowners go out and purchase furniture, appliances and other furnishings for their homes, Washington and the two counties benefit from sales tax revenue and the retailers benefit from increased sales, which helps people keep their jobs.

I’m sure there are other economic benefits from this program, but these are the ones that come to mind at this point. It is important as we continue working to retain this invaluable program that we continue to tout the benefits to the participants and communities we serve