Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood and mayoral candidate Kim Lund will speak in Fraser Hall 102 at Western Washington University on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.
The two candidates will answer questions from students, which can be submitted online prior to the event using the Western Involvement Network.
This will be the third candidate forum before the general election on Nov. 7, with the Sheriff and County Executive forums having preceded it in October.
These events were organized by Mallory Schaefbauer, director of Western's Associated Students Office of Civic Engagement, and Gabby Laipenieks, the local issues coordinator of the OCE.
“It just is a really good way to make politics accessible to students, bringing candidates and local issues to campus," Schaefbauer said.
Seth Fleetwood, the current Bellingham Mayor who is running for reelection, believes his time in government will offer an advantage when it comes to the forum and following election.
“I’ve been involved in civic affairs in the city of Bellingham for many years. I’ve been an elected official in local government for many years, and I’ve been a mayor for many years, during a very challenging period of time,” Fleetwood said.
Kim Lund, the second and final candidate, feels that her own experience has given her the skills needed to do the position of city mayor justice.
“I have decades of experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors," Lund said. "I’ve been an experienced team leader in a Fortune 50 company, and I’ve led a non-profit organization here locally. And those are the skills that are directly relevant.”
In the Aug. 1 mayoral primary, 22,985 people voted — about one-fourth of Bellimgham's population. The top two candidates, Fleetwood and Lund respectively, moved on to the general election.
Western’s student body is made up of 14,747 voting-age individuals, a proportion that has the capability to swing this election, provided increased student interest.
“Students, when they can harness their energies together, can really make a lot of change, especially in a place like Bellingham where students make up a good chunk of the population,” Laipenieks said.
One issue that impacts students directly is the rising cost of living in Bellingham. In 2022, roughly 70% of students at Western lived off campus, according to U.S News and World Report.
According to the Bellingham City Government, housing costs in Bellingham have outpaced wages in the city, which will impact any students renting apartments in the city.
A 2022 peer-reviewed study from Grand Valley State University showed that single-family home-oriented zoning causes issues with traffic, pollution and housing costs — all issues that impact students and other Bellingham residents.
The study reports that filling the gap of missing middle housing may be an alternative that would help solve these problems, while also reducing housing costs. Missing middle housing is a term that refers to a lack of housing between single-family homes and large apartment complexes in the United States.
“Fundamentally over recent decades it’s all been single-family in large swathes of Bellingham, and then the other designation is multi-family. There’s not a lot of housing choices in between," Fleetwood said. "As we actively engage in our comprehensive plan update, which we’re starting in right now, we’re going to be identifying all kinds of ways to bring missing middle housing types to the city."
In Bellingham, nearly half of homes are single-family homes.
“We could be looking at a form-based zoning code that would promote more walkable, livable communities, and support some of the missing middle housing that we’re going to be able to build in our community,” Lund said.
For students — some of whom rely on public transportation, biking or walking — improving the ability to travel through the city and easily access the Western campus is important.
“You just had to take it or leave it, I can’t think of anywhere else that we looked at that was cheaper. Some places did offer more stuff, but they tended to be farther away,” said second-year Western student Isaac Brant about his search for an apartment.
Brant said he had to quickly get into an apartment and sign a lease to secure a nearby housing arrangement.
“For a university student, it’s very important to be in an apartment that is affordable … but also is accessible for you to get to the university,” Brant said.
Both candidates are looking to increase protections for renters in Bellingham.
“It is critical that we keep people stable in the housing they have because even the most efficacious programs to help people get off of the street are nothing compared to keeping people with homes in the housing they have,” Lund said.
According to the 2022 U.S. Census, 46% of homes in Bellingham are owned by the occupants, about 17% less than the state average.
“My newest mid-term budget is going to increase staff to work on the landlord licensing program and have additional staff for enforcement, so I’m optimistic that the quality of rental units is going to improve because of that,” Fleetwood said.
Students and those who’ve recently graduated with student loans will be strongly impacted by new tenant protections. According to a peer-reviewed 2019 study on home ownership, people with student loans are far more likely to have a long delay before they purchase homes, meaning they continue to rent for an extended time.
The study found that for every $1000 of student debt, there was about a 1-2% drop in homeownership for individuals in their 20s.
Students who wish to attend the candidate forum can use the Western Involvement Network to RSVP and submit a question. For more opportunities to get involved in the upcoming election, the Office of Civic Engagement is running a Voter Hub on election day, Nov. 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Viking Union Multipurpose Room.
“If you don’t have access to a mailbox or a printer, or if your ballot got sent home and you live out of state but you’re registered here — things like that — will all be able to get done at Voter Hub. You can also register to vote there,” Schaefbauer said.
Students can also register to vote online.
Joshua Grambo (he/him) is a campus news reporter and journalism/news editorial major in his second year at Western. Outside of the Front, Joshua enjoys reading, playing dungeons and dragons, spending time with family, and working on craft projects. You can reach him at email@example.com.