Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Zonemaven Academy II

Dean Kahn has provided a summary of Planning Academy II where a number of new housing types, i.e., “the what” were presented to and evaluated by the attendees. (Click here to read his article) The imbedded bugaboo, i.e., “the where”, is yet to be decided although one does find some extant examples in Bellingham. I submit that there is a third component, which is “the how” and therein lies a greater problem...of which few speak. We already have examples of “the what” and “the where” which may provide clues to “the how” of the future.

It may be instructive then to look at the presentation made during the Planning Academy II wherein the “stakeholders” saw photos of the various types of alternative housing, “the what”. You can view these photos by going to the City of Bellingham website dedicated to the Planning Academy by clicking here. The photos are remarkable in that it appears that they had been taken on the set of “On the Beach”, a 1959 film in which a submarine crew, protected by being underwater during a massive nuclear weapons exchange, returns to the west coast to find the cities devoid of life. Similarly, we are presented photos of these housing types, “the whats”, in a remarkable state in which people, cats, dogs, cars, trash do not play a role. Let’s look at some Bellingham reality with regard to homes on “small lots” which include town homes, duplexes/triplexes, cottages or whatever.

These are “snout houses” (with protruding garages in front) on small lots along Ashley St. Click on each photo to enlarge for full effect.

Here are some small lots on a cul-de-sac off Consolidation St.

This is a morning panorama on a street in the Magnolia Hills subdivision.

As for accessory dwelling units, among which I include carriage houses, the prescription that either the main house or the accessory unit must be occupied is of little comfort for the simple reason that economics will soon drive the homeowner to the accessory unit at which time he or she will rent the “big house” to maximize returns on the rental. At the last Samish Neighborhood annual meeting our Director of Planning mentioned this as being an attractive alternative. Why rent the ADU at $400 per month when renting the house will bring in $1,500 to $2,000 per month? The residency rule may attenuate somewhat any propensity on the part of the renters to engage in un-neighborly behaviors but the amount of infill will be distorted. One rents an ADU to one or two people. The “big house” will attract many more and double or triple the density into what we call an illegal rooming house. And then there are the cars...

So now we arrive at “the how”. Here is how the city tends to enforce housing codes. These examples were found in a matter of hours in widely scattered neighborhoods and are surrounded by modest and well kept homes.

The question for the citizenry is, “How ('The How') will the City Council and the city government enforce future codes on the housing described above when its efforts to date have allowed for a proliferation of illegal rooming houses, derelict homes, and residences where boats, trailers, cars and various sorts of containers are treated as lawn ornaments?” I know that our new Chief of Police, Todd Ramsay, is working diligently on a method of enforcement but will the political will of the Mayor and the City Council be there at the moment of implementation?


Michael said...

Dick, I think you're looking at the ill effects of poverty and limited economic means. That's how we get some of those dilapidated houses, and that's why people "shack up" together. I know you're focus is on enforcement, but I think we need to keep an eye on the deeper, underlying issues, or we run the risk of treating the symptom rather than addressing the need.

I'm not offering any solutions (I wish I had a few ready answers, but I don't), just an observation.

zonemaven said...


Thank you for taking the time to comment.

As for your analysis, I agree to a great extent about the poverty and limited economic means. The reason I focus on enforcement is that I think it is exactly the atmosphere of non-enforcement which has perversely created the present situation in which so little in the way of of affordable housing is available within the city. For example, one cannot ignore the effects of 8,000 or more students seeking rentals each year. This distorts the rental market and tends to push up rental rates making affordable housing that much more difficult to find for those of modest means. I invite you to read through some of my previous blog entries in which I have spoken directly to the issues you have raised.

Matt Petryni said...

Dick, this post makes no sense really, at all. I understand the merits of your argument against "illegal rooming houses" and whatnot, but I really don't believe the pictures you posted are examples of that at all. Like the previous poster, I too think the houses exhibited above are not the homes of transient, short-term renters like college students but rather those of impoverished long-term renters that are poorly maintained by their landlords and occupied by a regular tenant for a number of years.

As for the affordable housing argument, I think we can all agree that one is significantly more complicated than simply college kids driving up the rental market. If the rental supply were large enough, this should not be a problem. It is a reality that 11,000 college kids live in Bellingham, and we cannot will this massive rental demand away by forcing them to stay out of houses.

I don't, however, want to get into an argument with you - or anyone else, frankly - over an internet blog. But I am a "college kid" (in a legal rooming house, mind you) and I do care deeply about this issue, so I might suggest we get together for coffee and talk more about this, if you have time. Contact me at mpetryni@uoregon.edu if you're interested.

zonemaven said...


Thanks for the reply.

The derelict homes pictured in my blog entry were to underline the problem with code enforcement in Bellingham. I made no statement to the effect that these homes were rentals. The other photos were placed in the blog entry to demonstrate what happens in some neighborhoods when homes are crowded together in an attempt to create infill.

If you review my blog from the beginning, you will find that I have never advocated tossing out all student renters from single family homes. I have, however, maintained that the zoning codes be enforced, be they for student renters or anyone else. If three students want to rent the home across the street from me, that is fine as long as they respect the laws. At the same time, WWU needs to take more responsibility in the matter of student housing other than just dumping thousands of students on the community in a rental free-for-all.

I will contact you separately regarding that coffee!