Is the Missing Middle a Missing Link?

Our schools are reflections of our community and right now, our schools are  unbalanced.

On July 24, 2017, the Planning Committee invited Steve Clarke, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for Bellingham Public Schools (BPS), to discuss the impacts of Bellingham’s growth on schools.

Two major impacts are overcrowding of north end schools and socioeconomic imbalances across schools. Currently the district is in the process of redrawing school boundaries in efforts to re-balance class sizes and diversity in schools. The Bellingham community values public education, and its neighborhood schools are part of Bellingham’s valued character. BPS are guided by the Bellingham Promise. The Promise strives to create schools where children are loved, recognizes that diversity enhances a strong and healthy community and works toward ensuring every child has what they need to succeed. Currently about 40% of students are living at or below the poverty line.

Few schools reflect the demographic with some elementary school serving 80% students experiencing poverty and others less than 20%.

Lack of economic diversity in neighborhoods is reflected in neighborhood schools, creating significant challenges for BPS to fulfill the Promise. It was the conclusion of the Planning Committee that redrawing the school lines alone will not solve BPS current and future concerns.

Is the ‘missing middle’ the missing link?

On August 14, 2017, the Planning Committee took a deeper dive into the ‘missing middle’, and if it may be the missing link to the long-term health and sustainability of our community.

Missing middle housing refers to a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living. Examples include carriage houses, duplexes, triplexes, tiny homes, small lot homes, live/work units, and cottage housing.

Missing middle housing provides more housing options for community members across a range of incomes and lifestyles by filling the gap between apartments and single-family homes.

This type of housing is prevalent in many of Bellingham’s neighborhoods because communities across the country used to be organized into and developed around mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. Zoning ordinances of the 20th century led to the segregation of uses and prohibition of building many of these housing forms in single-family neighborhoods.

If it was determined inappropriate for us to discriminate based on someone’s race and race and socioeconomic class are highly intertwined, then why do we perpetuate and allow discrimination by class?

Over the past few decades, communities have started looking again to small-scale, well-designed housing in urban areas as a growth strategy that meets many economic, social and environmental goals. Economic benefits include the efficient use of land and resources by developing in areas served by existing infrastructure and focusing limited funds on improving existing areas. A social benefit includes fostering equitable communities by increasing diverse housing types, creating the opportunity for a diversity of people to live in neighborhoods with good schools, parks and amenities.

Our built environment must evolve to reflect our values of equity and inclusion.

Lastly, environmental benefits of missing middle housing include protection of open spaces and rural lands outside the City limits and encouragement of alternative modes of transportation, including more robust public transit. The City’s Infill Housing Toolkit, which includes housing forms synonymous with the missing middle, was originally intended to implement the housing and infill goals from the City’s 2006 Comprehensive Plan. However, in 2009 the ordinance passed by City Council only allowed the Toolkit to be used in multifamily zones and in single family zones that were annexed after 1990’s.

Where can you build the missing middle in Bellingham?

The white areas on the link below currently only allow for development of a single family detached home and in some cases an attached accessory dwelling unit (A-ADU). The legend explains what housing the colors represent for other areas. InfillToolKit_Allowed (1)

Resources I find helpful

Missing Middle resources

Impacts of Zoning on Communities–%20racialoriginsofzoning.pdf


Equity is the Antidote for Inequality

I’m continually inspired by Angela Glover Blackwell, executive director of PolicyLink. In a recent interview she states, “We will be a failed Nation if we don’t overcome the legacy of racism,” and she’s right. By the end of 2019 the majority of 18 years and younger in America will be people of color (POC).  Census Bureau predicts by 2044 the U.S. will be a pluralistic society; no race will be the majority. (See link below to watch the interview)

You see, Angela isn’t being an alarmist. She’s stating what each of us know inherently but haven’t taken the time to unpack. “The fate of our nation is dependent upon those who have been marginalized and discriminated against,” Angela adds.  So, no longer is building an equitable community seen as a “moral imperative,” it’s now become an “economic, democratic and national imperative.” The future demographic of America will be a majority of POC, and currently in America POC are disproportionately living in poverty.  If we keep to the status quo, the future of our Nation “will have little to no middle class” in our life time.

In an piece by Angela for Standford Social Innovation Review she writes, “These demographic shifts matter to every American. Not because there is something frightening about a nation where whites are no longer the majority. Rather, it is because the costs of society failing people of color are climbing as the population grows—and because the benefits of strategies that expand opportunity for people of color would extend to all. Knock down walls of exclusion and build accessible pathways to success, and everyone gains.” (See link below for full article)

I recently was meeting with a constituent when I explained the rapid demographic changes in America and the importance of equity work. He met my concerns with, “April, it will work itself out.” Institutions do not intuitively and automatically transform simply because white’s are no longer the majority.

During a City Club event Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Institute stated, “The racial demographics (of America) are changing dramatically. Obviously not as rapidly here (Bellingham)…. You need to be prepared for it. One, because it will manifest itself and two, because white supremacists and white nationalist look for places like this (Bellingham) that have a strong majority white population to move and to set up shop. So this puts you (Bellingham) at risk.” (Link to Lecia’s talk below). Bellingham’s population is 79.81% white (2016 census data).

Bellingham isn’t a white dominant culture by accident. We have a legacy of racism that runs deep and policies that continue to segregate our residents by class. And because class and race are so highly intertwined, those policies that have segregated us by race as well. Our northern schools are busting at the seams, with elementary schools where the majority of students are POC and where over 70% of students are living at or below the federal poverty level. While an elementary school less than a few miles away has a population that is over 80% white and barely reaching 20% of students living at or below the federal poverty level. This is the result of not distributing our resources equitably to help all achieve equality.

There is so much we can do at the local level. But first we must acknowledge that we are participating in oppression of others daily. We must be curious and do the work to pull back the curtain and expose ourselves to the realities of implicit bias, institutional and systemic racism, white privilege and white fragility (more links below if you want to get started now). We must talk about racism and inequities and dedicate ourselves to transforming our systems and institutions to reflect equity in every policy and practice.

Equity is the antidote for inequality!

Equity is NOT a zero-sum game. Angela explains equity as the curb-cut effect: When we ensuring everyone can participate and contribute, ultimately everyone will benefit. Curb cuts were initially intended to improve access for those reliant upon wheelchairs for mobility. After the rapid adoption of curb-cuts, communities realized a ripple effect of unintended benefits like easing the burden of people pushing strollers and those delivering goods with hand trucks and a number of unencumbered pedestrians’ lives saved because the curb-cuts orients people to cross at the corners. Angela states so eloquently, “When we solve problems for the most vulnerable with nuance and specificity the benefits cascade up and out.”

curb cut

Policy with a Conscience: Angela Glover Blackwell (listen to the end to hear words from Mayda Del Valle)

The Curb-Cut Effect by Angela Glover Blackwell

City Club Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Institute.

Robin DiAngelo on White Privilege and White Fragility  

I recently attended a phenomenal race equity training by Cikeithia Pugh of Equity Matters NW out of Seattle at the Bellingham Public Library. We must invest in race equity trainings and make readily available to ensure we are transforming our City from the inside. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. Cikeithia’s training taught me a LOT of what I didn’t know. If you are in a decision-making role for your business or organization, invest in race equity trainings often for staff and board members and commit to ensuring your work is equity grounded!

Do I have something racist stuck in my teeth?

Jay Smooth (see the link below) has a unique way of helping us look at our own prejudice and the need to commit to continually exploring ourselves and our understanding of others. He says that by being mindful of our personal and common imperfections,  we are able to be good to each other and ourselves. He provides a really simple analogy to help us all remember that exploring our own “pockets of prejudice” and  being open to how others are perceiving our words and intents must to be a daily regiment, like brushing our teeth.

Of course, brushing our teeth in the morning doesn’t guarantee our teeth will be clean all day or forever. So when someone lets us know that we have something stuck in our teeth, we are thankful. We can go and floss or brush or swish our mouths out with water to correct the problem.  We respond kindly to the person, understanding he/she/they was showing good will, caring enough to save us the embarrassment of walking around all day with food in our teeth. It needs to be no different when someone takes the time to call us out on our words or actions that were hurtful or insensitive. We must respond graciously and be thankful that someone cares enough to let us know!

Certainly thankfulness isn’t our typical response these days when someone let us know what we said was racist, hurtful or offensive. We tend to get defensive, making it impossible for our society to have these very important conversations needed to dismantle constructs that are limiting our growth and binding us to intolerance and hate.

So check it out, (if you are taxed for time start at 6:00).And for goodness sake, if you see something racist stuck in my teeth… please tell me!


Today I attended a three-hour yoga retreat at a local studio aimed at setting intentions for 2017. We breathed a lot, bent our body in all kinds of positions and stopped to write when prompted by facilitators’ encouraging words. I recognize that I’m privileged to have time available and resources necessary to support such an endeavor; hence I embraced the opportunity with my whole body, heart and soul.

So, what resulted from three hours of thoughtful practice?

LOVE!  Yeah, I can hardly believe it myself 🙂

In retrospect, our family’s participation in the Interfaith Prayer Service at the Sikh Tempe last night had a great deal of influence on my practice today. If you have never attended this evening of connection, I highly recommend it. Last night, one after another those representing a broad-spectrum of faiths proclaimed a simple message, “LOVE.”

But it’s not really that simple, is it?

Noemi, a Holocaust survivor who also spoke last night, certainly inspired me to think so. She’s a 94-year-old woman whose entire life was turned upside down by hatred; yet she renounces hatred and embraces love. She warned against the hate rhetoric she is hearing in our country today, saying she recognizes the speech all too well. So, I’m taking this great woman’s advice and hope you might consider joining me.

Let it be known: I’m committed to representing the people of Bellingham City with the intention to approach all issues, policies and concerns from a place of love in 2017.


Different Paths, Same Destination: Reflections on 2016

Early December, just a few weeks ago, I was running late – leaving one meeting and headed to the next. I decided to take a shortcut down a trail headed in the direction I needed to go, knowing I was taking a chance as I had never been down this path before. About 10 minutes into the trail I found myself faced with a six-foot, chain link gate. It was secured closed by lock and chain. The fence was older and its wires were entwined on each other, creating pointy spikes along the top. I was on a strict time schedule and knew that turning back would delay my next appointment. In my haste, I saw only one choice. Crossing my fingers that no one would spot my ungraceful attempt, I started climbing and hurled myself over the gate. I nailed the landing but was left bruised and a bit scraped up. I stood looking at the gate from the other side, out of breath, trying to retie my now torn scarf and searching feverishly for a tissue to deal with the bleeding wound on my right hand.

As I turned to continue my way, there it was…. A narrow trail, just to the right of gate. Yup, it led right around the fence to the very place I was standing. I sighed. Then I giggled. I continued my walk pondering that experience and what it had to offer: Different paths, same destination.

This was a very fitting metaphor for my year. Thinking back, I realize that when you become a Council member, there really is no handbook. This learn as you go method caused me to climb a whole lot of fences in 2016, landing in a place where we needed to be as a community but left licking some wounds and feeling exhausted at times.  With a year of experience under my belt, a whole lot better understanding of City government, community connections, and constituent support, I can more clearly see potential paths around those fences, but even so, I’m grateful, for without the climbs, I wouldn’t have learned the lessons I did.

I’m looking forward to working with you all to promote and ensure equity across our City and its systems. Although there may be challenges ahead, and we’ll still need to climb a few fences, I’ll always be on the lookout for the path that will save us all a lot of energy and unnecessary struggle. With that, I’m feeling super excited and motivated to embark on 2017.

As always, I’d love to hear from you! What are you most excited about for our City in 2017? Keep in touch ( or 360-325-5128).

Happy New Year!

Looking Forward to the New Year

april-launchIn reflecting with constituents about my first year’s accomplishments and experiences as a Council member, it was brought up several times that many would like to know all of the work that goes on for individual members beyond the scheduled Council meetings. I’m not referring to public meetings, as those require a quorum of members. Rather, I am referring to meeting with constituents and community groups, for example, to build collaborative efforts towards positive social change. So this year, I’m going to try the blog format as another way to communicate with you all. To comply with the Open Public Records Act, this site will not allow for comments. Please send any comments to or call 360-325-5128. I’m looking forward to sharing more of my work as your Council member during this next year of Council. Please keep in touch and Happy New Year.