Thursday, August 16, 2007

Single Family Zoning Non-Enforcement Resonates with Residents

Readers React
Since my intial post, I have received some comments and emails on the subject of the lack of enforcement of the Bellingham City Code concerning single family residences. It bears repeating that the main issue is non-enforcement of an existing code, prohibiting more than three unrelated individuals from occupying a single family home, which has had the effect of turning our neighborhoods into rooming house districts. My thanks to Larry Farr, candidate for the Ward 3 council seat, for his response to my initial comments. Larry has taken the time to contact me and also to talk with me at the Samish Neighborhood meetings which Larry attends.

Nobody Is Immune

Some suggest that home buyers should have known or suspected that they are moving into a neighborhood with de facto rooming houses or that they should move somewhere in town which is free of this phenomenon. The problem is that there are very few neighborhoods which are free of group rental homes. Especially hard hit are the York, Sehome, Happy Valley, Roosevelt, and Lettered Streets, however, no area is immune. Homeowners within the city limits should not have to worry that their investments and quality of life are threatened because the city does not do its enforcement job.

Altering Homes

I am hearing more reports of existing rental homes being modified to increase the number of bedrooms, thus making them more attractive as investments to prospective landlords. One suggested that new homes are being built with the intent of marketing them as a group rental, i.e., rooming house. Enforcement of the current code will prevent the former, whereas the latter must be controlled during the permitting process. Of particularly troubling note is the push for more accessory dwelling units (ADU). These allow the resident owner to rent the main house and live in the ADU, thus creating another possible rooming house.

Whither Go the Renters?

So what happens if the code is enforced? After all, the renters must live someplace. Let's remember that this is a process. As the group homes begin to disappear, demand for low cost, high density housing will increase. The fact that thousands of students will be looking for affordable housing will not only make that market more attractive to builders/investors, it will push the university to either build more on-campus housing or develop partnerships with the private sector to provide these students residences off-campus in high density housing. As the former single family units become less attractive as rentals, more of these houses will appear on the market at lower prices due to their sheer numbers thus providing more affordable housing for home buyers. The market will never react, however, as long as the status quo, i.e., non-enforcement of the city code, remains the rule.

What You Can Do

I invite my readers to send copies of this posting to their elected leaders and to the candidates. You can find candidate email addresses at the Whatcom Independent site or elected officials at the city website. Get your neighborhood association involved by contacting your representatives by email.

I also want your reactions to the comments above. Remember, you define the issues. Do not let the candidates or your elected officials tell you what is important. Non-enforcement of this code is ruining our neighborhoods. You can make a difference.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dick please include Sunnyland...especially south. We are surrounded by some of the worst rental homes which are owned and operated by Lakeway Realty (I'd like to know other neighborhoods who are having the same problems with this agency). We had an incident here last month that required the entire Bellingham police force to come to our neighborhood. This was after repeated letters and phone calls to Dave Hansen owner of Lakeway Realty and letters to COB Mayor Tim, COB Police Department for violations that are mentioned in the code as well as code violations with garbage. The litter control officer (who is a police officer and not in my opinion a code officer) apparently spoke to the renters and I do not know who ultimately cleaned up the HUGE (renter or owner) pile of garbage but it was nearly two months worth before anything really happened and that is a ridicules timeline for a health hazard. We found little help in this matter and no phone calls from any of the above until the police incident last month. Eight Neighbors met with Mr. Hansen in regards to his rentals and in my opinion he seemed to really not care...though he has cleaned up the properties a bit. As a neighborhood we have come to an agreement that if this continues we will continue to write the above people and as far as code enforcement...yeah right! Any more suggestions would be most helpful but I am doing this anonymously because I do not feel safe at times with some of the people in these rentals.