Monday, January 21, 2008

Uncontrolled Infill à la Illegal Rooming House- The Sad Result

The note below from a woman named Pat was sent to me as a comment on my Whatcom Indy guest column.

"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 inundated 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."

Unless and until the city enforces its zoning codes, this sad story will repeat itself. There should be no shortage of test cases once the city responds to Terry Bornemann's motion for a program to enforce the city's own laws. My advice to Pat in the meantime is to report litter violations to the city's litter control officer, Darren Sandstrom at 676-6859. For parking problems (it is against the law to park on the sidewalk or to park on the roadway facing the wrong direction) call 676-6911 and ask for a parking control official to ticket such violators. Call every day if you have to. If a car appears to be abandoned, call 676-6920 and ask for the vehicle to be tagged and towed (for additional info, click here). For those loud parties, continue to call 911 (ask your neighbors to call at the same time) and ask for a follow up call from a police officer. Report those illegal rooming houses to the Planning Department. Tell your neighbors to do the same. Click here to obtain the complaint form. It's your neighborhood - take back control. Tell the city officials,

*Quote from the movie Network (1976). Read the full text of the quote from the character Howard Beale by clicking here.


Anonymous said...

Comment for Pat.
As you are one of many that have the same problem throught out the city, please do the following: Contact mayor Pike and either talk to him one on one or leave his a message of the problem you are experiencing in your neighborhood. Second, contact Linda Steward at the Mayors office. She is the liaason for the mayor between the neighborhoods and the Mayors office. The more people/neighborhoods that contact the Mayor, the more he will understand THERE IS A PROBLEM. Contact the Permit Dept of the city, ask for a formal complaint form for code violations. More then 3 is a city code violation. Fill it out and send it in. The city must be aware that there IS A PROBLEM AND CITIZEN ALL OVER THE CITY ARE INVOLVED. Don't complaint city just says there is not problem.

Anonymous said...

In response to Pat's comment about calling 911 and not getting any results- this happened to me each time I called on a loud and obnoxious party throwing illegal rooming house in the winter of 06.
I finally contacted the police department information desk during the day to ask what I was doing wrong and why they never came when I called about a party. A very nice woman at the police department told me I should call every hour or so untill I recieved follow-up. She also said I should call as early in the party as possible, even during the day if it was noisy or if there was under age drinking going on.She also said I could ask the police to make contact with the party house, not just a drive by (many times the party would be outside drinking and yelling and then quite for a spell when they went back inside, and then outside again. A drive by often missed the real action going on.Since I contacted the police department, every time I have reported a loud party the police have followed up pretty promptly.
I agree with Zonemaven, contact the mayor concerning this. Let's see if Pike really plans to support our neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...


I am responding to some of your postings. I have lived here longer than you and so has my landlord (almost 30 years). Currently we work for nonprofits and love our city and neighborhood. I shovel my neighbor's sidewalk when it snows and work hard to maintain the character of the neighborhood by picking up trash and dog poop left behind by inconsiderate dog owners. I volunteer at emergency homeless shelters when the weather is severe. I support myself by working at a local downtown establishment.

I also am a returning student I must mention. Personally I am offended at your categorical notions that these rooming houses are a danger to neighborhoods. I have lived with single mothers, adults in their 50's (on limited incomes), students, Americorp volunteers (they live on very ungenerous stipends), working poor, and retired military personnel.

Considering the housing market we live in it is impossible for these good people (me included)to find what you consider affordable adequate housing. Wild parties...we've never had a noise complaint (because we are not what you define a "party house"). I have lived in a few neighborhoods in town and can sympathize with some your concerns although I would suggest that they are myopically focused on a relatively small group of people. I must also point out that I know of a number of seniors that rent rooms in their house to pay for property taxes that are difficult to afford in the golden years.

I looked up your property taxes and compared them to what my landlord pays and what some of these older individuals I mention pay. Yours are much less even though you live on the top of the big hill and in a bigger house. I also find it interesting that your property taxes went down significantly before they went up slightly (2005/$2795.79, 06/$2474.88, 07/$2500.05). I looked up the income of the co-owner of your house and noticed that she makes over $4700 per month and would suppose that she receives health benefits from WWU. I would also surmise that you worked hard in the FBI and may have a handsome (well-deserve) retirement plan.

Where your house stands was woodland a short time ago. I read your opinions in the Herald and it seems you have a genuine appreciation of the woods (note your ATV comment).

This town, as you know is unique and a gem to many of us who live here (rooms and all), but you don't own it and neither do I--we just have our slices of life (I used to work at that coffee shop in Fairhaven). What I don't appreciate are people like you who show no appreciation for people like me (hard working community members no matter what our income is). What you are campaigning against is defaming the character of our town not maintaining it. The answer to maintaining this town's character is not acting like the Gestapo kicking people out of their homes financially or by legislating them out. The reason why this zoning law isn't enforced strictly is that people don't want to kick out their neighbors, friends, and family.

You speak pretty strongly from the top of the hill with fewer neighbors than most. You tout unrealistic solutions for very real problems (a place to eat, sleep, and call home).

May God show you mercy for your strong attitudes and may you find peace inside of yourself (and not take it out on well intentioned people). Who knows maybe you'll hug a tree and not look down on people who are your neighbors in town.

zonemaven said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for taking the time to comment. I do believe, however, that you are operating under some misconceptions. I applaud your involvement in the community and believe that we all should give back to our city from time to time. That is why I have volunteered as a Block Watch Captain, a Senior Volunteer at the Police Department, a member of the Campus Community Coalition and as an advisor/panelist for senior culminating projects at our local high schools. But you can read all that on the first page of my blog.

I find it interesting that you say that I think illegal rooming houses are a danger for the neighborhoods. I don't believe I have ever said that and would appreciate your pointing out where you saw that in my blog. I have said that illegal rooming houses can be dangerous to the renters in that they are not controlled or inspected in any way. These illegal rooming houses also tend to degrade the quality of life and the housing values for homeowners who live nearby.

Nor have I ever said that there is a problem with a "senior" renting out a room in his or her home in order to have a bit more income. I have spoken about accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which I think are a bad idea for the reasons I have stated in my blog entries. I invite you to read my blog entries on ADUs.

I am not sure what the relevance is of my property taxes or the income of my wife. I don't control the tax structure and I probably don't control my wife much either. I worked for 40 years to have my retirement, although I was never in the FBI.

As for my home, it was built 10 years before my arrival in Bellingham. If someone cut down the trees to build it, it was not at my insistence. In fact, if you live anywhere in Bellingham, someone, at some time, had to have cut down a tree or two to build your house.

Contrary to your allegations, I have all the respect in the world for hard-working people in this town and I feel that the city has let them down by not fostering an atmosphere in which there is adequate affordable housing. Instead they allow illegal rooming houses to proliferate and degrade the neighborhoods. This is not an elitist notion in that a large number of these rentals can be found in areas with modest homes whose owners have worked hard to purchase and maintain them.

I am not sure which of my solutions to the problem of illegal rooming houses is unrealistic. I do know that without enforcing our municipal codes, we invite further degradation of all our neighborhoods and we surely will not be in a position of encouraging the building of affordable housing.

Lastly, I find it interesting that your negative statements regarding my blog appear as comments to an entry in which a woman, whose neighborhood has been trashed, laments the fact that the city has turned a blind eye to their problems. Does she not deserve to be heard?