Sunday, September 30, 2007

Are Rooming Houses Lowering Your Property Values? Appeal Your Real Estate Valuation.

If those rooming houses on your street are ruining your quality of life, chances are they are also lowering your property values. Hulk vehicles, trash, poor maintenance, loud parties, public urination and public intoxication can be reasons you can use to challenge the assessed value of your property. I recently spoke to a homeowner on 34th Street who had more than $20,000 shaved off her home valuation by the Whatcom County Board of Equalization based on the increased number of illegal and unmaintained rooming houses. She will see a reduction in her real estate taxes and the local governments will see a decrease in revenue. It is time to hit ‘em where it hurts, in the pocketbook. Perhaps then those responsible for non-enforcement of single family zoning will wake up and smell the coffee.

From the Whatcom County website: “The Board [of Equalization is wholly separate and apart from the Assessor's Office. They are comprised of three County residents appointed by the Whatcom County Council to three year terms. Board members are selected for their knowledge of real estate values and each member is required by law to attend an intensive five day course on the valuation of real property. Board members are salaried while they are in session and receive yearly continuing education from the Washington State Department of Revenue. The Board is directed by state law (Revised Code of Washington, RCW, and Washington Administrative Code, WAC). A list of Whatcom County's current Board members is available upon request.”

To appeal the assessed value of your home, go to the Whatcom County website (click here) It is a simple process as I was told by the homeowner above. The website provides a form (click here) . With your appeal, include photos of the rooming houses showing the trash, poor maintenance, etc. Include copies of police reports on noise violations or disorderly conduct. Copies of letters or other communication you may have had with the landlord may also be helpful.

If you had to sell your home tomorrow, would you receive top dollar or would prospective buyers ignore your home because of the adverse impact of rooming houses on your street?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Who Gains by This?

The following comment appeared yesterday evening on the website of the Bellingham Herald. This type of comment is not uncommon except for the vulgarity. I have written their management to ask for moderation of the commentaries on articles which appear in the Herald. Comments such as this (read the original here, if it has not yet been removed) do precious little to advance the discussion on this or any other issue. I have a pretty thick skin and, therefore, I am not much personally offended by these sophomoric natterings. I do find highly offensive the frequent spelling errors that seem characteristic of these comments.

“Hey "DICK"'ve only lived in Bellingham since 2002. If it's such an inconvience (sic) living here, go back where you came from. Nobody asked you to move here. If you want your privacy, move to the very northern part of Alaska. This isn't your town so f**k off and leave a**hole!!! Local Life ...09.28.07 - 8:06 pm”

*Replaces letters which were included in the original post on-line.

Friday, September 28, 2007

City Council - Resolute or in Disrepute?

We have come to learn the following which was posted on the City Council’s web page (click here):


September 24, 2007


Council Member Bornemann reported that landlord accountability issues will be discussed at the October 8, 2007 meeting.

What are we to think of this development? Frankly, we are puzzled. Perhaps the council is putting the proverbial cart before the proverbial horse. Although it is gratifying to see that the council, albeit somewhat dimly, is awakening to the problems that have been for years all too obvious to the single family homeowners, we cannot imagine the reason for which the council is looking for accountability from the landlords when it has not, as yet, asked for accountability from the Mayor and the Director of Planning. Some time past, the council voted into law Bellingham Municipal Code (20.08.020), a portion of which defines that which constitutes a single family for the purposes of further defining zoning relating to single family neighborhoods. From the information we have been able to gather, the city executives have all but ignored this portion of the code thus allowing the creation of uncontrolled, unregulated and unlicensed rooming houses throughout the city. It seems to us that the council may wish to produce a resolution expressing their indignation with respect to the inactivity of the city executives in enforcing a code that they, the council, deemed acceptable [vere dignum et justum est] and passed into law. At such time, the council could then turn in high dudgeon, with a straight face and with resolution held high, to call the landlords accountable.

Sounds of Silence - Your Government Speaks

On Monday morning, 24 September, I invited the Mayor and the Director of Planning and Community Development to speak to this issue. I sent them an email alerting them to the blog posting which requested their comments on several complaints I had received from Bellingham residents. I have heard nothing from these city officials. Here are a few more emails that I received during the week. Again, I ask the Mayor and the Director of Planning to speak to the issue. Why the silence?

JW, now of Ferndale, wrote:

“I'm a 'drunken student' refugee now living in Ferndale. I used to live in Happy Valley. Now a complete college slum. Used to be a nice place…

He also said:

“The city told neighbors at [a] get together that they (the city) will not enforce the municipal code concerning how many people live in a house. They told us to get lawyers if we wanted to fight it! All of this crap went on for six went from a quiet neighborhood to a total 'war zone'. I had lived in Quiet Bellingham since 1975 and the real change happened in the late 90's. A city "planner" told me that "I should move because it will get worse!" … Landlords (big problem) owning the properties told neighbors to 'get f----ed'. Literally. Nobody controls them. They are almost as bad as the students. All of this was four years ago in "Happy" valley. Happy Valley went from a peaceful very quiet area to one of the worst crime neighborhoods in a matter of a few years! All of this is exactly what the city and college want and they have always gotten what they want. The college wants to expand, expand, expand. And the college turns a blind eye to it all. Not their problem. … It’s quiet and serene out here in Ferndale!"

And this from JM in the Whatcom Falls Neighborhood:

"Hi …, Sad to see that we have to rely on a "new comer" to highlight one of our city problems. I liked your article [Bellingham Herald, 23 September] very much and fully agree that something needs to be done. Like yourself we have a neighborhood problem, one house rented to college students or non-relatives, the other a housing authority house. Both of these have presented repeated neighborhood problems but only those living close seem to care that much. I am guilty of ignoring things for many years as I worked so many hours and my wife is mostly housebound with health problems, [so] that neither of us really noticed. After retiring I was exposed more often to the problems so naturally more concerned… I did speak with Dan McShane when he was door knocking in our neighborhood [and] he made notes of my concerns. ...he lives in the York neighborhood, not a rich new development so he too should be concerned. I would like very much to help in an effort to get things changed and protect our neighborhoods and the quality of life we should be able to expect. Regards, JM"

And last but certainly not least from CB:

"I live right next door to one of these houses, located at XXX 20th. I have complained in writing to the City regarding what goes on at this address and have had absolutely no resolution. I'd like to offer my support to your efforts and would welcome an opportunity to discuss this with you. Later . . . CB"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bellingham Herald Features Zoning Issue Again

The Bellingham Herald has discovered the Zonemaven’s blog. In today’s Herald you can find an article by Sam Taylor entitled “Blogger Wants Zoning Rules Followed.” Click here to read the article and comments.

Dean Kahn also posed a question regarding the zoning issue. Click here to read the question and the more than 70 comments. My comment follows:

"It is unfortunate that the question raised by Mr. Kahn was phrased in a way that implied that the students were the problem. The reality, I believe, is that the students’ behavior in group rentals is a symptom of a greater problem which is that of growth and the manner in which the city controls growth. Most neighborhoods are now updating their neighborhood plans, providing the city with their wishes for areas of parks, trails, high/low/medium density housing, etc. Unfortunately, the terms that the city uses to define low density, i.e., single family zoned, are totally ignored which allows the creation of rooming houses (high density) in structures which are meant to be inhabited by a single family. These de facto rooming houses change the character of neighborhoods. There is a considerable difference between the footprint of an average family with several children and the footprint of a rooming house with 6-7 adults. WWU, by virtue of its size, contributes to the bulk of the problem by asking the city to absorb 8,000 or more students each year. What would be the reaction of the city if a corporation were to come to Bellingham and say that it would employ 13,500 workers (mostly temporary) but that it could provide housing for only 3,500? That is essentially what happens here each year. The students are not stupid. I know. I invite them to my home for dinners and BBQs. I work at WWU sporting events. I am a member of the Campus Community Coalition and I attend the Let’s Talk forums. They are smart, funny and engaging. Students do the economically viable thing which is to band together to lower their costs. Nevertheless, the city has an interest in controlling growth by way of its ordinances. Ordinances similar to Bellingham’s regarding single families have been upheld in other cities. See my blog for examples ( Furthermore, the city has an interest in controlling businesses within its jurisdiction. Rooming houses are a business but the de facto rooming houses here are totally uncontrolled and uninspected. This endangers the health and welfare of all our citizens, especially our temporary residents, the students."

Monday, September 24, 2007

When Will Our City Officials Speak?

The following is an open question to our Mayor, Tim Douglas and to our Director of Planning and Community Development, Tim Stewart.

What are we to respond to those who have written below? Mr. Douglas, I know that you will soon be leaving office. Nonetheless, you cannot be disinterested in these issues or you would not have agreed to return to the mayor’s office. Mr. Stewart, you are charged with enforcing zoning here in Bellingham. What is your answer to these individuals?

"Greetings Dick …

Great article in the Bellingham Herald!

I live on XXXX Lane [Whatcom Falls Neighborhood] and have a next door house, with 5 unrelated, college students every year. I explain to the new [tenants] every September that they live in on a "family lane". "Welcome to the neighborhood, let me know if you need anything.....,if you get out of control my friends in the police department WILL show up." I'm tired of training the puppies every year, seeing the house slowly getting neglected, and possible property value of our home deplete[d].

Do you know of any small claims, court cases against these rental house owners? I was considering it.

So far, I stay in contact with [the] BPD …about noise complaints.

Got any advice for me? Keep me in the loop. I want to get involved with this Bellingham problem.



And this:

"Dear Dick,

You are so right on!!! our neighborhood has had a bit of the multi resident renters as of late. One has cars parked in front and late nite parties..Another has seven day a week garage sale. We have an ADU in construction as we speak. Talk to the City planning and they say it is density issues. I asked if there were ADUs in Edgemoore, and the official said "No"

My question is Why not?

Your article in the Herald said a lot...I don't know if it reached those that count...Edgemoore people didn't pay attention. The people that don't pay attention to the renters and their neighborhoods, It is a growing problem and our civic leaders need to address this.

Thank you for bringing it in front of the citizens. It is doubtful that anypone will pay attention to this growing problem until it gives everyone a black eye.

In closing, I would like to say that I contacted the City of Bellingham regarding a planned ADU in our neighborhood and was told by the official that it didn' t matter if the neighborhood did not want it to happen....It was in the best interest of density! I asked about Edgemoore! You know the answer.


Who Gets to Speak on the Issue?

The following anonymous comment was left on the Bellingham Herald site yesterday in response to my column, a copy of which I posted below.

"Yeah, you probably just moved here with the hoardes (sic) of outsiders escalating home prices, bought a house, and now expect the rest of the population to try to find an affordable home? News bulletin: college students do not have the purchasing power of retired people who have prior equity. If they are lucky, mom and dad bought a small house or a condo near the schools. Someday, these students will be homeowners. For now, they need to live somewhere.
native Whatcomite"

My response:

My Dear Native Whatcomite,

The purpose of my column was to initiate a constructive dialogue about a severe problem facing all of us in Bellingham regardless of origins. Your ad hominem remarks are not helpful. [An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: "argument to the person", "argument against the man") consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to an irrelevant characteristic about the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim.] If you read my blog at, you will find that I am fully supportive of the students finding affordable housing. In fact, it is they, who often have to live in cramped, unhealthy, uncontrolled, de facto rooming houses. They deserve much better. As for native Whatcomites, we all came from someplace else: recent retirees like me, your family, the waves of nomads into the Americas 30-40,000 years ago. Perhaps the salmon are the true natives.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

More from Candidate Geyer (Ward 5 Candidate)

Bill Geyer sent me the following email yesterday. He proposes a specific type of legal remedy.


Great! Thanks for spearheading this issue. Laws are laws, and some folks want to just brush them off to feel good. When laws are not enforced, private individuals have to resort to public exposure such as your current effort. Otherwise, a private citizen can resort to a writ of mandamus whereby the city is compelled to act. I am not an attorney, but many local land use attorneys have commented on the effectiveness of this tool.

As the former Bellingham Planning Director (1985-91), I can attest to the directive for administering and enforcing the Bellingham Municipal Code. Unequal enforcement of the municipal code erodes the ability of the City to enforce other types of land use regulations. If charged with a violation, the defendant could strengthen his defense by pointing out the City is discriminatory in its practice by not enforcing the single-family provision. Given the City's history of not prosecuting the single-family violations, it is possible that a Judge would be suspect of the City's prosecution of other land use violations, thereby putting all taxpayers at risk.

Too bad my opponent feels public hearings are the answer instead of simply enforcing existing law. It is troubling that some current Council members do not have the courage to stand by the Bellingham Municipal Code that they are sworn to uphold.

Best to you in your efforts.

Bill Geyer

I would like to remind my readers that Bill Geyer’s opponent is Terry Bornemann, the incumbent council member. You can find Terry’s response to this issue in my blog of August 28th below.

And yes, please - no hearings. Those who wish to change the code, after yet another series of mind-numbing hearings, present a peculiar problem. On what basis do you change it? There are no court decisions regarding this code. It has never been tested. We need a judicial decision on the code and not opinions from the city, the council, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

As I said on the Mike Kent show on KGMI yesterday. There are three priority action items with respect to this issue:

Priority 1: Enforce the current code
Priority 2: Enforce the current code
Priority 3: Enforce the current code

Zonemaven Guest Editorial in the Bellingham Herald

Here is a reprint of my guest editorial which appreared on Sep, 23, 2007 in the Bellingham Herald.

City should enforce rules on single-family dwellings

Let’s talk about growth, but neither the kind we usually read about with respect to Bellingham nor the manner in which the city will accommodate the 1,500 or so new arrivals here each year. We have had another, far more insidious, growth problem. It affects just about every neighborhood, unless you are one of the fortunate ones living on a hillside in a million-dollar home within 5 acres of trees. The growth about which I am writing stems from decades of neglect wherein the Bellingham Municipal Code has not been enforced, thus allowing for uncontrolled growth within areas zoned single family. The city has permitted property owners to convert their homes into de facto rooming houses.

Admittedly and somewhat perversely, this neglect allows an accommodation of thousands of young men and women, most of whom are university students, by providing low-cost housing at the expense of the quality of life and property values of your neighborhood. This growth is a cancer which, if allowed to continue, will persist in its metastatic march across the city and onto your block, if it is not already there.

Western Washington University just received $47million to increase the capacity of its facilities, which will attract more students; however, university management has not forwarded plans except to build one more dormitory in the next few years — maybe. Approximately two-thirds of the 13,000 students (i.e. 8,500) must still find affordable housing every year as the rental market tightens — as it is bound to do.

Incredibly, there is talk of using accessory dwelling units to increase the availability of low-cost housing. Not only will this poor concept increase the density in your neighborhood as ADUs are built, but it will also allow the homeowner, who no longer has the need to live in a large home, to move to the ADU and rent the main house. Since nobody controls the number of people living in a single-family home, there is effectively no limit to the number of renters.

I have first-hand experience of such a home on my street whose value, by the way, is around $400,000. The owner moved into the ADU and has had a succession of renters — families and groups. We have experienced at that home over the last five years an illegal in-home business, illegal parking, hulk and abandoned vehicles, unattached trailers, loud parties, and at least one arrest for assault and property damage.

As your neighborhood associations work diligently to update your neighborhood plans, they will be paying special attention to growth issues, especially to preserve areas already zoned for low-density, single-family dwellings. The problem is that city does not enforce the code designed to preserve the character of those areas. That neglect renders the planning moot as single-family, low-density homes are converted to medium- and high-density rooming houses which are not licensed or controlled.

Neither the university nor the housing market will respond by creating more affordable housing units until the current law is upheld and illegal rooming houses are a thing of the past.

We, the citizens of Bellingham, do not have to endure the status quo. We can demand enforcement action from our city officials and insist that candidates for public office recognize the problem and have well thought out plan to deal with it effectively.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

York Neighborhood Resident Tells It Like It Is

I received this note below after appearing on the Mike Kent radio show this morning with Garey Vodopich and Rick Chartrand. You can sense the frustration of this York neighborhood resident. We had one caller on the radio this morning who would speak only off-the-air for fear of retaliation in his neighborhood. A sad commentary on this state of affairs.


I met a gentleman yesterday. He was working at the Condo building site on Lincoln St so [I] asked if he was the builder [but] he was just doing the plumbing. I said to him the University should be buying [this] housing for the students. You see they made more parking for them just a short distance from the Condo site. He agreed went on to say how bad It's gotten where he lives so I found your blog site...containing your great letter. He's really interested in this project [as] he lives in [a] single family dwelling … and is fed up too. Did you see the Best of Bellingham paper this week? The York neighborhood rated the Best Neighborhood. I grew up here and there's a lot of not so very good things about this neighborhood and we need to start a blog [on that]. Bellingham rated #1 place to live is not agreed with by several of us, there's a lot of information that needs to be out there. If we have a lot of elderly people moving and moving into the rowdy neighborhoods [and] we don't have enough police protection [for what] goes on here in the York Neighborhood. You call them and it can sometimes take more than an hour to get here on party night."

Name withheld

Damon Gray (Ward 4) Chimes In.

Damon writes:


Thank you for continuing to be the standard-bearer for this important issue.

The heart of the discussion during your time on Mike Kent's Radio Real Estate program, was the enforceability of the Municipal Code as it is currently written. As I was unable to get through to the program, I'm passing my comments to you here. A non-enforceable code is no better than having no code at all. If the code is in place, it needs to be enforced. If it cannot be enforced, it needs to be revised to include language that is enforceable.

While I respect the wisdom and experience of the City Attorney, ultimately, we don't know if the code is enforceable in its current form until it is tested in court. Similar cases in other jurisdictions have shown that R1 zoning can be enforced if properly articulated in the Municipal Code. I believe the enforceability of our code needs to be tested. If it fails the test, it needs to be revised appropriately.


Damon J. Gray

Bellingham City Council - Ward 4

You are right on the money. It is up to the court to decide the constitutionality of our code. The City Attorney certainly has his opinion but, just like belly buttons, everyone has one. One opinion counts and that is the opinion of the courts. Anything short of that becomes babble and results in quibbling, stalling and continued frustration. Time to move on.

Candidate Bill Geyer (Ward 5) Responds

Bill Geyer has responded to my blog comments. He also took the time this morning to call into the Mike Kent Show on KGMI to support those of us who are seeking enforcement of the municipal code. I have reproduced his comments in their entirety. Thank you Bill.


Thank you for your email regarding enforcement of the the "family" definition within Bellingham's single-family zones. I agree with your opinion that a violation of this code places a burden on the surrounding households that comply with our zoning laws. My opinion is that not only should this code provision be enforced, but also that it "shall be the duty of the Director to enforce the provisions of this ordinance" (please see Bellingham Municipal Code 20.50.010A). The current Bellingham code uses "shall", which leaves no room for non-enforcement. Although an enforcement action may touch off a public debate on the merits of this policy, perhaps it is time to have this debate so that enforcement occurs. For the reasons below, the current ordinance language should remain and enforcement should take place. Meanwhile, other steps should be taken to encourage additional student dormitories on campus and in nearby areas already zoned for multi-family uses.

How did this happen?
Conversions of single-family homes into rooming houses has occurred because owners can collect more gross rent from many tenants than can be collected from one tenant. Overcrowding results and unsafe conditions to the tenants, and surrounding home owners results. Preventing overcrowding was one primary reason zoning was confirmed by the US Supreme Court in 1926 (Euclid v. Ambler 272 U.S. 365).

Where did this come from?
Zoning definitions of "family" have evolved over the years with a primary focus on relations by blood or marriage with no occupancy limitations. However, limitations on the number of people not related by blood or marriage are typical. As different living arrangements have accelerated over the past 20 years, cities are struggling to keep a balance on their basic responsibility for safe neighborhoods without overcrowded conditions. Unfortunately the lines get blurred when market forces for student housing come into play. Our local market is healthy due to growth in the number of students and some property owners are exploiting this situation.

What should we do?
First, we need to uphold the current Bellingham law.

BMC 20.08.020 Definitions

D.11. Dwelling Unit: A single unit providing complete, independent living facilities for 1 family including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation.

F. 1. Family: One or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or not more than 3 unrelated persons, living together within a single dwelling unit. For purposes of this definition children with familial status within the meaning of Title 42 United States Code, Section 3602(k) and individuals with disabilities within the meaning of Title 42 United States Code, Section 3602(h) will not be counted as unrelated persons. "Adult family homes," as defined by RCW 70.128.175, are included within the definition of "family." Facilities housing individuals who are incarcerated as the result of a conviction or other court order shall not be included within this definition.

BMC 20.30.030 Residential Single Development Permitted Uses
A. Uses Permitted Outright. No building or land shall be used within an area designated residential single, except as follows:
1. Single Family Dwelling Unit with less than 5,500 square feet of total floor area. (See Conditional Uses. Also see Section 20.30.050 H, for limitations on number of rooms in attached dwelling units.)

BMC 20.50.010 - Enforcement Officer

A. It shall be the duty of the Director (or authorized employee) to enforce the provisions of this ordinance, or any conditions properly imposed by the Hearing Examiner or Council related to the use of land, and see that any violations are remedied through proper legal channels.

As shown above, enforcement is required. It should be pursued at this time.

Second, the root cause is the lack of student housing on the WWU campus and the surrounding areas. The City should engage in constructive discussion with WWU to identify strategies to house the increasing number of students. WWU is a great institution of national and international prestige that will continue to attract the best and brightest students. I trust this will continue as WWU is a great cultural and economic benefit to the entire community. We should work towards meeting WWU's growth either on the WWU campus or in close proximity on WWU property or in adjacent multi-family zoned locations. Some opportunities for mixed-use urban villages along Samish come to mind.

Please contact me if you would like to discuss in greater detail.

Thank you,

Bill Geyer, Candidate for
Bellingham City Council 5th Ward

Friday, September 21, 2007

Health and Safety. Young Renters Deserve Much Better.

If you enter the Western Washington University website and drill down to the page entitled Off Campus WWU (click here), you will find advice to the student renter. This site provides information on health and safety issues which may be encountered in renting housing. That the university must mention this to the students, more than suggests that there are problem properties and landlords in the totally uncontrolled rooming houses that have been created in just about every Bellingham neighborhood. I find it aberrant that the this city has no program to license, control or inspect these de facto rooming houses and leaves it to the young, first time renters to sink or swim on their own. Other cities have comprehensive landlord licensing codes. Minneapolis has had a code in effect since 1991. Click here to read about their program. Here is a quote from their site: Minneapolis requires that every rental dwelling, including single-family rental dwellings and rental units in owner-occupied duplexes, and rooming and shared-bath units (unless they are in a licensed lodging house) must have a rental license.” Bellingham must actively work to ensure the health and safety of those leasing single family homes. Welfare matters such as adequate plumbing, safe electrical circuitry, sufficient number of exits, control of vermin, fire suppression to include smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and structural integrity must be addressed. Write to the mayor at and the city council at to let them know you are not satisfied with uncontrolled rooming house growth and the lack of inspection of these rental properties. Ask them the reason for which we license dogs (click here to read the code) but leave the health and safety of our citizens to a wing and a prayer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quo Vadis, Western? Doug Karlberg Inquires.

Here are the latest emails I have received from Doug Karlberg on this issue.


Good luck on the radio. One of the issues that is important to folks in Bellingham is the issue of affordable housing. As I was driving through Western the other day, I was thinking that if Western simply provided enough housing for those [who] attend college, then housing would be more affordable in Bellingham [than] it is today. I was surprised that the latest affordable housing project in Bellingham may go down in flames for lack of parking, but what about Western's parking issues? Wouldn't Western be a good neighbor and take care of the parking and housing that it needs. Seems like Western is going to need something from the City and negotiating more on campus housing would address both your issue, and affordable housing.

Good luck,

Doug Karlberg



Please feel free to use my comments on your blog. By the way, I can still be written in for Mayor. Only the vote in November, elects a Mayor. I am going to launch a write in campaign the first week of October. 80 % of the votes did not go for either Pike, nor McShane and neither of these guys really wants to address seriously the affordable housing issue.

It is clear from internal Western memos that the University wants to continue to expand on the waterfront, without building a single place for their students to live. If you think you have problems now with people thumbing their nose at the authorities now, the best is yet to come. WWU is thumbing their nose at the community by not building enough parking and housing for their customers (students). This would not be allowed, if this were a private developer. Guess who gets the bill?

I like the college, but I think that they need to be responsible for all their impacts, it is as simple as that. It is just about being a good neighbour.





It is interesting that growth, sprawl, private houses turning into dorms, and traffic problems all revolve around the issue of affordable housing, but none of the candidates have plans with any level of detail. I guess I am beginning to understand the problem that at least some of the neighbourhoods are facing.


Thanks for taking a moment to write.

I have stated previously in my blog that Western needs to step up to the bar in a more substantial manner. I don’t think the university can provide housing for all 13,000 students but I think they can do much better than the 3,500 or so dorm slots they now have. I have suggested a public-private partnership whereby WWU can join with the private sector in building high density, off-campus housing which is also affordable. If over the next few years hundreds (or thousands) of single family homes formerly rented by students come on the market for families moving to Bellingham , that will go a long way toward easing the housing crunch.

I find it hard to believe that the city has never considered the housing of WWU students as part of the infill/sprawl problem. Every year 13,000 people just kind of show up and the university expects the city to absorb over 2/3 of them – which is, of course, impossible, unless the city ignores its own ordinances on illegal rooming houses.

Discerning interconnectedness here seems to be a glaring lacuna to which Bellingham’s polity ironically remains blind.

Where is Louise? At-Large Candidate on the Lam?

Louise, quid fit?*

Louise Bjornson, my dear readers, is missing-in-action. She is the only candidate for office who has not responded to my request for a comment on the lack of enforcement on the single family zoning issue. I have visited her website with the expectation that she may have posted some comment on the question there. But I found nada, zip, zero, bupkis – i.e., nothing except the following which is tangentially related:

"Healthy neighborhoods are the building blocks of a healthy city.” says Louise.

Louise is well known for her dedicated participation in neighborhood and community meetings.

“For me, being informed and accessible is fundamental to doing a good job as a Council member.”, also says Louise.

Louise, I know you show up. I see you everywhere. You always say hi and take my name, phone number and email address but when I am I going to hear back from you?

In addition, from her candidate website comes this. “Louise and her family have lived in Bellingham for forty one years. Before her election to the Council, she served for five years on the Bellingham Planning Commission and for twelve years as the Birchwood Representative on the Mayor's Neighborhood Advisory Commission. Louise has supported efforts to ensure neighborhoods retain their character and remain safe and livable.”

Great! After 41 years you ought to have just oodles to say about non-enforcement of the Municipal Code. Five years on the Bellingham Planning Commission should entitle us to hear your views about how planning is going awry since the very definition of single family zoning is meaningless. Help us, Louise! How did you advise the mayor on this subject when you were on his Neighborhood Advisory Commission? Tell us, Louise!

Our neighborhoods are not healthy, safe and livable unless we can stem the spread of illegal rooming houses. Attending meetings is not accomplishment. Being informed and accessible is mandatory but if no action follows, where are you? Where are we? Who will lead us to the promised land of single family neighborhoods and deliver us from the scourge of rooming houses?

Louise, what are we to do? Like Diogones, we wander the agora in daylight with a torch, seeking an honest man (woman). Speak to us.

*"What's happening?"

Candidate Pike Provides an Update

I received the following from Dan Pike regarding the single family zoning enforcement issue:


I though I had answered your questions some time ago, but in reviewing your blog realized you asked a follow-up question regarding whether I would test the ordinance in court.

To be clear, I believe in enforcing the codes we have, and am willing to go to court as needed.

Yours for Bellingham,

Dan Pike

Monday, September 17, 2007

Single Family Zoning Issue on Mike Kent Radio Real Estate Show - Saturday, 22 September at 10am.

Illegal Rooming Houses Garnering Media Atttention

The lack of enforcement of the single family zoning code will be the topic of this Saturday’s Mike Kent Radio Real Estate show from 10am through 11am at 790AM on your radio dial. The Zonemaven will be one of three guests on the show to talk about the roominghouse-ification of Bellingham’s neighborhoods. You will be able to speak directly to Mike and guests on the show by dialing 676-KGMI (5464). We want to hear your stories of the effect of illegal rooming houses in your neighborhoods.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

More Reader Comments

This from an email to the Mayor and copied to me:

Subject: Forward to Mayor

Ms. Hanowell. Whatcom County Local Voters Pamphlet: Position Descriptions: City mayor: The City mayor ensures effective, efficient and economical administration in accordance with the CITY CHARTER or BYLAWS, the WASHINGTON STATE CONSTITUTION, and other applicable FEDERAL, STATE, and LOCAL laws as well as city council policy. Responsibilities include but are not limited to the following: Enforces all ordinances and state statutes within the city.

Would you please inform the mayor that it is his job to enforce the single family code currently on the books, and put there by the city council. Also that He is currently derelict in his duties. Reason being? Please response as I would like to share the answer with my neighbors. I thank you in advance.

Respectfully Yours,


From a recent email to me:


I appreciate your perspective on this "growing" issue and agree with many of your major points which you articulated very succinctly. I also agree that additional (on campus) WWU dorms could help alleviate some of the problem. Unfortunately, there will always be a large percentage of (especially) upperclassmen that opt to live off campus regardless.

I agree, this problem is not created by students. It is the landlords offering high density accommodations to seek maximum profit from their investments. It would be interesting to know how many of our city neighborhood association members (over) rent to students?

I tend to agree, most students are responsible and try to fit nicely into the community. Your comment concerning "mature" supervision in these "boarding houses" identifies a major reason for our frustrations. Many, if not most, multiple housing unit rentals seem to be poorly maintained nor cared for inside and out. This contributes greatly to the degradation of home values and our individual quality of life in any neighborhood.

"Alternate" (WWU owned) housing is a concept that should be explored more fully. This could help relieve some of the problem, but needs to be funded by our legislature similar to renovations and classroom construction. A question jumps out at once; where would "alternate" housing be located? I'm sure it would become a "not in my neighborhood" issue! This is a great conundrum.

Dick, what do you suggest should be done to "force" the City and WWU to actively step up to this problem? Past (and present) actions have been useless except to aggravate our collective frustration level. Letters and phone calling apparently has not worked ! I would be interested in your comments.

A novel approach to consider would be to contact the IRS, WA State Revenue and Bellingham City Finance Departments. I wonder how many of our (beloved) landlords of "boarding houses" are paying Federal taxes on their earned income !! That's called tax evasion! It would be relatively easy to find out the owners (landlord) names and addresses. Remember, Al Capone was finally jailed for tax evasion.


Yet another email comment:


We live in the equally unenforced, single-family-zoned Magnolia Hills subdivision and have our quantum of the equivalent of rooming houses in our neighborhood -- you can spot them by the unkempt yards, heavy/loud traffic, excessive numbers of cars parked wherever, overflowing trash cans (cardboard boxes, beer cans, bottles, etc.), post-midnight noise, and the quarterly appearance of junk "free" furniture by the curbside. Neighborhood appearance affects property values. Renters and roominghouse inmates don't care. Owners do.

I suspect the new Bellingham mayor and City Council (remaining elected and newly elected alike) won't do anything enforcement-wise until and unless the presssure increases. Time to get organized.

Like you, I am a retired federal government officer (State Dept.) and returned long-time WA resident.