United Way Agency Spotlight: Mercy Housing Northwest

Jul 29, 2021

When you give to United Way, you support over 20 local nonprofits doing amazing work in Whatcom County. You may not be familiar with every program that benefits from United Way funding, so we thought we’d share some of their stories and their work. Today, we’re featuring Mercy Housing Northwest, an organization dedicated to providing affordable housing for individuals and families who are struggling financially in our community.

Why are people homeless?

Increased housing costs, stagnant wages, and low vacancy rates make it extremely difficult for many people to secure and maintain stable housing. Research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition revealed that

an individual making minimum wage in Whatcom County would have to work 55 hours per week to afford fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in our community.

Keep in mind that’s literally just the cost of rent. Those 55 working hours every week won’t cover the costs of other critical necessities like food, transportation, technology, medical care, or child care.

According to the 2021 Whatcom County Point-in-Time Homeless Count, there are over 850 people experiencing homelessness in our community. Ages range from less than one year old to 87 years old. 22% of all homeless individuals in Whatcom County are under 18 years of age. 14% are under 10 years old. 23% of individuals experiencing homelessness are 55 or older, and homelessness among seniors is on the rise. LGBTQ and racial minority groups are overrepresented in the homeless population. Youth. Seniors. Minorities. These are vulnerable populations.

The leading causes of homelessness identified by respondents are lack of economic opportunity, family break up, untreated mental illness, substance use disorder, domestic violence, and inadequate re-entry services for people released from institutional settings. But homelessness can affect anyone.

How does Mercy Housing Northwest help?

Mercy Housing Northwest owns and operates 6 affordable housing communities in Whatcom County, with on-site services for residents at 3 complexes in Bellingham: Sterling Meadows Apartments, Sterling Senior Apartments, and Eleanor Apartments.

They provide additional services in 5 program areas, including Health and Wellness, Education, Housing Stability, Financial Literacy, and Community. Resident Services Coordinators work diligently to provide innovative and engaging resident-driven programming, one-on-one support and assistance, and advocacy. In partnership with countless organizations around Whatcom County, Mercy Housing helps stabilize lives and create space for dreams.

We asked Lindsey Karas, Resident Manager at Mercy Housing, to share how their programs are helping local Whatcom County residents with safe and stable housing. Here’s what she had to say.

Can you touch on the financial aspect of the families you serve? How do your services help promote financial stability?

Providing a safe, affordable home promotes stability for families, and living in multi-family housing creates a sense of shared community. One of the services we offer to families is financial education– helping families learn about saving, bank accounts, and managing finances. In addition, when families can save money on rent, they can direct those extra funds to other critical items like food, health care, school supplies, or other unexpected expenses.

Who is your typical client? Or is there one?

Every family and resident is different. Families who live in Sterling Meadows are farmworkers. Residents at Eleanor Apartments are seniors. Some residents have just come from being homeless. Others are on fixed incomes. Regardless of the reasons that bring a family to Mercy Housing, they all have dreams and goals, and we are glad we can offer a robust variety of services to them.

Can you share a success story?

mercy housing new staff member crop

Recently, we were able to bring two former or current residents on to our Resident Service staff! These individuals both lived at Mercy Housing Northwest properties for more than eight years and have been active participants in the various programs that we run on-site.

Our guiding light is to engage residents by listening, responding, and supporting them in achieving their dreams. It has been our greatest pleasure to then watch residents turn around and do the exact same things for others.

These staff members have deep understanding and connections with the work that can be achieved with our organization and we are so grateful to have them working with us.

Click here to meet a Mercy Housing family and one of our fantastic new hires! (story starts at 16:45)

What are 5 things people may not know about Mercy Housing?

  • Mercy Housing is the largest non-profit affordable housing provider in the United States
  • We have 243 units in Whatcom County
  • Our next project is a family housing complex in Barkley Village
  • Sterling Meadows is the only specified farm-worker property in all of Mercy Housing Northwest
  • We have been able to change high school graduation rates at one of our Bellingham properties from 0% to 98% over the last 7 years

mercy housing graduation 2 scaled

What does it mean to be part of the United Way Network?

We are thrilled to be part of the United Way network and the rich fabric of service agencies helping the most vulnerable in our county. We know the reputation of United Way is strong and we benefit from being aligned with this network when we engage with local businesses in our community.

What’s one thing you’d like to say to United Way donors and supporters?



Together, we’re making a difference

United Way is proud to help fund Mercy Housing’s work with local families. We know the homeless crisis is complicated, and that it will take many people and agencies working together to make a difference. This is why we fund a variety of programs focused on providing basic needs, increasing economic mobility and breaking the cycle of poverty in Whatcom County.

Here are some other housing programs that receive United Way funding.

For a full list of United Way funded agencies, click here.

To see who received grants from our Emergency Recovery Fund for COVID-19, click here.

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