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The Housing Hustle: What you need to know about the Western student housing scramble

A comprehensive breakdown for students searching for housing in Bellingham

A Hammer Properties NW “For Rent” sign hangs in front of a house across from Mathes Hall at Western Washington University on April 17, 2024, in Bellingham, Wash. Hammer is one of many property management companies in Bellingham. // Photo by Bodey Mitchell

This story was originally written for Journalism 307, taught by Professor Betsy O'Donovan, here at Western. Even though one of the reporters is not on our staff this quarter, it has gone through our editing process and meets our standards.

Disclaimer: Please note that the following information is from February and March 2024; the price, availability and amenities of the listings in this story are subject to change. 

As the end of the academic year at Western Washington University draws near, students are faced with a critical decision: where to live next during their time in Bellingham. 

The spreadsheet that accompanies this story lists housing options from a college student's point of view, based on a college student’s priorities. This is not a house-hunting list, as some of these places will definitely be rented out before this is published. This spreadsheet is meant to help students evaluate the most common options: dorms, apartments and shared houses. 

The data has been organized according to students’ most common priorities: price, size, distance to campus, access to parking, permission to have pets and lease qualifications and terms. The price we chose to list for each dorm is a double room + 80 meal plan (excluding BT45 and Birnam Wood). We felt that giving the cheapest option reflects students' needs and concerns.

“For me, parking was a big one since I'm independent,” said Abbi Means, a Western student who lives at Stateside Apartments. “I need to be able to have a job and I need to use my car a lot of the time, and this year since I don't have a parking spot guaranteed, there's a lot of things I haven't been able to do because I don't want to come home at 9 o'clock and have to walk a mile.” 

According to Western’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness, about 16% of all sophomores, juniors and seniors live on campus while 84% live off campus.

“There's so many new students and so many new people just moving to Bellingham,” said Dawson Kamalu-Nako, one of the program managers for off-campus living at Western. 

The standard dorm rate for a double room at Western can be roughly $5,000 for one quarter (although winter and spring quarters prices differ), and almost all dorms require students to buy a meal plan. Living off campus in an apartment can set you back about $1,200 per month depending on whether or not you live alone. If neither of these options are appealing, a house could be a better choice, but you may have to pay more for utilities and maintenance.


A Landmark Property Management 'for rent' sign outside near Western Washington University on April 17, 2024, in Bellingham Wash. Western students scramble for next year's housing during spring quarter. // Photo by Bodey Mitchell


The cost of dorms was broken down from quarterly to monthly to make it easier to compare monthly costs between the three housing options. The cheapest option for on-campus living was Birnam Wood, the only on-campus housing that doesn’t require a meal plan. Without a meal plan, the cost of living on campus can drop by almost 60%. 

“I live with two girls, and one of them loves to cook,” said Joe Sindell, a Western student who lives in Buchanan Towers East. “She cooks like four times a week, so I’ve barely gone to the dining hall. I think I’ve gone like once this quarter.” 

Before transferring to Western from North Seattle College, Sindell was looking through housing options and wanted an apartment-style dorm. This left him with Buchanan Towers, Buchanan Towers East or Birnam Wood, the three apartment-style on-campus housing options Western offers. 

Each of those options comes with an in-suite kitchen, and while Birnam Wood doesn’t require a meal plan, both Buchanan Towers and Buchanan Towers East do. Buchanan has its own meal plan with 45 meals per quarter, which differs from the standard ones found on campus. 

According to data provided by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, after their first year in college, most students move off campus, with others moving to dorms like Buchanan Towers and Birnam Wood. 

“I think the jump from home to dorm living was much greater than dorm living to apartment living,” said Hannah Greene, a Western student and Samish Station resident. 

Apartments lists the average rent in Bellingham as of 2024 between $1,400 and $1,950 for studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. 

“For most people, if you're only working part time, [you] probably won't be making enough to pay for that,” Kamalu-Nako said. 

Prospective tenants pore over listings, scrutinizing details like square footage, amenities and proximity to key locations when deciding where to live. 

To make this information as condensed and easy to read as possible, specific factors were included that are often difficult for students to find when they search for housing. 

Pets were included because students who have pets are often unlikely to leave them behind, according to a study called Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S., which states that for most renters, “the most common housing related reasons [for re-housing a pet] were landlords (43%) and not enough space (39%).” Landlords are legally required to allow tenants to live with service and assistance animals — sometimes called “emotional support animals” — without pet deposits or additional fees. For more information, see the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Distance to campus was included as some students may not have a reliable mode of transportation. 

“[Lark has] a shuttle that drives us to and from campus which is really nice,” said Paige Montgomery, Western student and Lark apartments tenant. “So I don’t have to worry about parking on campus.” 

Most apartments have a standard lease where the rent is divided among the tenants, with them being responsible for finding their own roommates. Some student apartments, however, like Lark, Stateside and Elevate operate using individual leases. 

On Elevate’s website it states: “With individual leases, you are only responsible for your (or your student’s) rent. This means you aren’t liable for your roommate’s rent at all! Unlike a traditional lease or a joint lease, if your roommate transfers, graduates, or fails to pay their rent, it does not affect you or your lease.” 

While individual leases can be appealing because you don’t have to worry about your roommates paying their rent, they can be more expensive. 

At Stateside Apartments, the cost of a room in a 4 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment is $1,109 while an apartment of similar size with the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms at the 1011/1019 Apartments costs about $700 per bedroom per month with varying utilities.


A PTLA Property Management sign near Western Washington University, on April 17, 2024. Western students scramble for housing during spring quarter. // Photo by Bodey Mitchell

Most of the apartment complexes in Bellingham require the renter to make three times the monthly rent, and/or have a credit score of 600 or higher, which can be a challenge for students. Sometimes a guarantor is required if the student doesn’t have those qualifications. 

Parking is also an important factor, which varies between each apartment complex. Certain places like the apartments at the Leopold Inn charge residents $60 per month for a parking permit at the Herald Building, while others like the Maple Park Apartments have one assigned spot included in rent. 

According to Lark tenant Samuel Keziah, “They [Lark] give too many passes for the parking spots that they have, so people are always fighting for spots and it just becomes a hassle.” 


Each house is different, which makes details on utilities and parking difficult to evaluate, but most houses in the Bellingham area are controlled by property management companies like Hammer Properties NW, Landmark Real Estate, Utopia Management and others.

Houses with between four and seven bedrooms were evaluated because they are generally too large for families but allow students to divide their rent among more people. 

Much of the off–campus housing that works for Western students is located in the neighborhoods closest to Western, such as Happy Valley, South Hill, Sehome, York and Downtown, and in the Lettered Streets, which is further away but on a number of bus lines. The maps of both Hammer Properties and Landmark Real Estate’s available listings show the abundance of off-campus housing that they manage around Western’s vicinity.

Houses usually require an application fee and a security deposit. For Landmark, there’s a $65 application fee per adult, $65 co-signer fee, first month’s rent, the deposit, and a single $200 administrative fee prior to moving in. Management companies aren’t required to refund application fees, which can add up, even if they lease the place to a different applicant, so it’s important to ask how many other potential tenants are in line ahead of you for a house or apartment before you pay the fee.   

Hammer Properties has a $50 application fee and requires all tenants to submit applications. If your income isn’t three times the rent and your credit score isn’t above 600, which is common for most students, tenants must have a cosigner. The cosigner fee is another $50 and requires a credit score over 600, as well as an income that is four times the monthly rent. 

When it comes to finding a reliable place to live, the options can seem both limited and endless, “That is one of the reasons why our office is here,” Kamalu-Nako said. “To help students in any way possible and lead them as they take their baby steps into figuring out moving off campus for the first time.”

Below is a guided map to student housing courtesy of StoryMapJS.

Read more about Bellingham's housing market with a piece on city and state housing legislation.

Bodey Mitchell

Bodey Mitchell (he/him) is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a second-year Journalism pre-major. In his spare time, Bodey can be found snowboarding or playing guitar. You can reach him at

Kaitlyn Ward

Kaitlyn Ward (she/her) is a senior at WWU. She is a Newswriting & Editorial journalism major getting her minor in Psychology. You can most likely find her making coffee or going on hikes! You can reach her at

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