Sunday, January 20, 2008

Response to My Whatcom Indy Guest Column

The following (in blue) was posted as a comment to my Whatcom Independent guest column of January 17th (click here to read the column) by an individual named Robert. My comments are inserted between parts of his text.

"I think too much area is devoted to single family only zoning. As demographics change to reflect more single people and other non family realities, some of the zoning should change. Mixed use zones can be healthy where high end home owners and lower end renters share the neighborhood. One example is in Fairhaven commercial district where high end Waldron Condominiums reside near the HUD housing project called Chuckanut Square."

There is an enormous difference between a high end apartment building co-existing adjacent to a HUD project and a single family homeowner finding adjacent homes turned into illegal rooming houses. I agree that the city should be cognizant of changing demographics especially since it has failed miserably over the past several decades to encourage affordable housing for thousands of students and low-income workers.

"Rather than having illegal rooming houses in single family zones, more zones need to allow for greater density. Then some of the big houses can be divided up into separate studio apartments, rather than one big noisy household of renters."

I agree that more zones need to be set aside for greater density; however, the creation of greater density by ignoring the zoning codes and thereby creating illegal rooming houses is not the answer. There may be some larger homes which are suitable for conversion to small apartments; however, this kind of infill must be carefully controlled. I have too many reports already about single family homes being modified on the inside to create more bedrooms so that the owner can cram more renters into the same space so that rent increases are absorbed by the additional tenants. I am also beginning to hear stories of conditional use permits being employed to circumvent the rules on single family zoning.

"Also it is good to have quiet one person or one couple studio apartments in single family homes where the family can live upstairs while 1 renter can live in what is often called a "mother in law" apartment."

I have spoken before on ADUs (accessory dwelling units). ADUs are a seemingly benign answer to provide additional, affordable housing for a single person or a couple. However, there is a tendency to cede one’s good sense to the dollar as has happened in my neighborhood. That ADU, the owner used to rent, becomes attractive as a place for the owner to live as he or she downsizes in later life while the “main house” turns into a money making source where one can earn, let’s say, $1800 a month versus $500 for that ADU. So now, instead of having one or two renters with an additional vehicle, you have 6 renters, all with cars, plus the car(s) of the owner(s). Water and sewer use rise in the rental but the owner pays no more since single family homes are charged a flat rate. Traffic increases and parking becomes an issue. Do not underestimate the tug of monetary gain. Ergo: ADU = bad idea.

"One good way to create more affordable housing is to have more units and smaller units. There shouldn't be the situation where only big family style houses are available so it takes 8 people pooling their money to live there. If the home is smaller, the household can be smaller and presumably quieter."

We should never have 8 people pooling their money to rent a single family home because that creates an illegal rooming house. This is an insidious means to allow uncontrolled infill and it does nothing to prevent the unlicensed landlord from neglecting his property and perhaps putting the health and welfare of the renters in jeopardy. Smaller homes may be an answer but I would not underestimate the ability of some homeowners to crowd as many renters as possible in even the smallest of houses.


Pat said...

I was so glad to read your column in the Whatcom Independent. To our total dismay, as families have moved and sold their homes in our neighborhood, they have been bought up by landlords and turned into rooming houses. What was once a really cute neighborhood is now a loud, trash-strewn, weed-filled, tired-looking eyesore. Our small properties are indundated by cars, which many times are parked up on the sidewalk, as our streets are narrow. In all the times I've called 911 on large, loud parties, I am unaware that the police have ever shown up. One WWW student neighbor, who had almost constant parties one summer, commented that he was "amazed the neighbors never called the police." In reality, we and other neighbors had called 911 multiple times.

I am SO glad to know that someone is taking this situation seriously. I have felt very frustrated about the situation. My husband for a time was part of our neighborhood association and talked with WWU but to no avail. We can't really afford to move out of our neighborhood, but we feel our quality of life is diminished due to the loud partying in and trashing of our neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

can't you complainers give it a rest??? WHO are you to tell people what they can do in their own house?? if you don't like it -MOVE --you moved there so you can afford to move away -- I see so many people get in a neighborhood and then try to change whatever it is they DON'T like about it after they've moved in --wonder if this will make it in your comments section since I don't agree with you??????

Anonymous said...

That commentor hit the nail on the head. The root problem is not lack of enforcement of the rule of 3. The root problem is that there is not enough apartments appropriate for students, seniors and other singles. If there was an adequate supply of apartments, these places wouldn't be rented illegally, as they would lose money not being able to compete with the cheap apartments.

Massive violations of a law usually indicates the law is broken, not the enforcement. In this case, it's the zoning laws, not the rule of three.

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Terry said...

Re: "Water and sewer use rise in the rental but the owner pays no more since single family homes are charged a flat rate. "

That makes no sense. All properties should be charged based on actual usage. I've never seen a flat rate like that before.

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