Kulshan Community Land Trust

Community Service Spotlight

by Molly McKinney-Holcomb

Ask any group of people about the biggest challenges facing Whatcom County, and you’ll hear about the housing affordability crisis. There is a $200,000 gap between what the average Whatcom County family can afford and what is available on the market. Home prices continue to rise twice as fast as incomes.* It feels overwhelming.

Twenty-five years ago, at the first inklings of these looming challenges, Kulshan Community Land Trust (KulshanCLT) was born. This year, we mark a quarter century of dedication to providing permanently affordable homes in Whatcom County.

What Is a Community Land Trust?

The community land trust is a time-tested model for permanently affordable housing, born out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. In this model, the community land trust maintains ownership of the land while a homeowner purchases the house itself and leases the land (often on a 99-year, renewable lease). This brings the home down to a price affordable at 50-80 percent of the area median income — the range we call the “missing middle” of the housing market.

Since our inception in 1999, KulshanCLT has steadily been growing a portfolio of homes, leveraging government assistance, charitable funding, and personal donations to pull houses out of the speculative market and into the trust. It’s almost like switching time into slow motion. The price of a community land trust home inflates at a fraction of the market rate, multiplying the initial investment and allowing family after family to buy the home at a price they can afford.

In 25 years, we have built a trust of 142 permanently affordable homes in Whatcom County and helped 230 households take that first step into homeownership. Many of these families have gone on to be able to buy a home on the open market, while others have found a forever home in their KulshanCLT house.

KCLT Director and Mayor at project

photo: Mason Elliott, Faber Construction.
Kulshan Community Land Trust executive director Dean Fearing and Bellingham mayor Kim Lund, at the Texas Street modular home ribbon-cutting.

Time to Grow!

And now it’s time to “go big and grow homes,” as our executive director Dean Fearing is fond of saying! For the first 25 years of KulshanCLT’s existence, most houses came into the trust one at a time, through what’s called a scattered site acquisition model. In the last few years, we’ve been preparing to shift our approach to one that will allow us to grow at a rate more closely matching the quickly rising need for affordable homes in Whatcom County. As we celebrate our 25th anniversary this year, we are turning our focus to project development.

We have ambitious plans to build a range of new homes that will further expand our impact throughout Whatcom County. Dean shared in our newsletter last summer, “We believe that a stable and secure home is the foundation upon which individuals and communities thrive. Our commitment to this belief drives us to explore new opportunities, forge partnerships, and work tirelessly to make affordable homes a reality for all.”

With multifamily developments in progress in Bellingham, Ferndale, and Blaine, KulshanCLT is poised to add more than 100 homes to the trust in the next five years!

The homes we build in this next stretch will cater to a wide range of needs, ensuring that everyone has a chance to find a place they can call home. To make a lasting impact, our new housing developments will be built with sustainability in mind. Building homes close to jobs, schools, and services minimizes trips by car or long commutes. We are committed to incorporating green building practices, utilizing energy efficient technologies, and promoting environmentally friendly materials. By doing so, we aim to reduce our ecological footprint and contribute to a healthier and more sustainable future for Whatcom County.

Projects in the Pipeline

Even as we continue to serve the 142 households presently occupying KulshanCLT homes, we are always looking five steps ahead. The following are the projects we’re currently working on.

Bellingham — Telegraph Townhomes: 12 families have now moved into our Telegraph Townhomes project, a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity made possible by funding from the Whatcom Community Foundation. These townhomes are close to jobs, schools, and transportation in the rapidly growing King Mountain neighborhood of Bellingham. Construction began this February on the next four homes, to be completed this year! The Telegraph Townhomes project will eventually comprise over 50 homes.

Bellingham — Sunnyland Modular Home: We are exploring the potential of modular homes as a development model for permanently affordable housing. This March we cut the ribbon on our first modular home, built in partnership with Faber Construction/West Coast Homes. This project was made possible by a gift of property to KulshanCLT from the City of Bellingham.

Bellingham — LaFreniere Court: In January we learned that we have been awarded $2.25 million from the Washington state Department of Commerce’s Housing Trust Fund for the construction of LaFreniere Court, an 18-home development in the Birchwood neighborhood of Bellingham. This development will be a mix of 3-bedroom and 2-bedroom homes and will also preserve one acre of land for local farm City Sprouts and a community center. This thoughtfully designed project will foster a sense of community, promoting interaction and collaboration among residents.

Ferndale — Thornton Street: In 2022, KulshanCLT purchased eight acres in Ferndale, thanks to support from Whatcom County grant funding. This project is moving forward quickly thanks to an additional grant from the Washington state Department of Commerce providing feasibility work. We expect this development to begin sometime in 2025. This project will be one of our largest to date, with over 80 homes expected.

Blaine — Downtown: KulshanCLT was awarded site control last year to develop half a city block in downtown Blaine that includes redevelopment of the Blaine Library. We are just beginning feasibility, but imagine a development of 80 or more homes affordable to families earning up to $110,000 annually.

Bringing It All Home

We often find ourselves talking in big numbers and multiyear plans, and it’s important to zoom back in to the human level. Each one of our 142 homes is occupied by a real person or couple or family. When we look back over the last 25 years, we remember what having an affordable home has meant for real KulshanCLT homeowners.

KulshanCLT homeownership meant these community members could:

  • go back to school
  • start a business
  • run for office
  • get a pet
  • plant a garden
  • keep their kids in the schools they were used to
  • get involved in their neighborhood association
  • care for their aging parents
  • stay in the community they loved

We are so thankful to have been a part of these families’ stories for 25 years, and we can’t wait to see what the next 25 years bring!


Molly McKinney-Holcomb is the grants and communications coordinator for Kulshan Community Land Trust. She has been with KulshanCLT for just under a year and has been thrilled to throw her energy into such a worthwhile cause. When Molly became a homeowner, she was so excited to get rid of all the moving boxes (for good this time), plant a dogwood tree, and order a custom return address stamp with her family’s name and address on it — in ink.

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