Wednesday, April 28, 2010

WWU Students to Host Forum on Rental Licensing

The Viking Community Builders (VCB), a student group at Western Washington University, will host a forum to discuss the issue of rental licensing in Bellingham. The event, entitled "This House Is Not a Home", will be held on May 17th at 7pm on Western's campus in Academic West (Academic Instructional Center), Room 204. (Building number 53 at the map here)

According to information from the VCB, the event is for representatives of Western Washington, the City of Bellingham, student and community members to discuss Bellingham's options for rental licensing. The forum will provide an opportunity "to chat about the benefits and consequences for tenants, landlords and the community as a whole" and to "let your voice be heard". Free parking is available in the on-campus "C" lot (see parking map here). For questions on the event you can email the group at

The Viking Community Builders was formed to foster communication, connection and respect between the WWU community and long term Bellingham residents. For more on the VCB, click here to visit their web page on Facebook.

In recent months, I have encouraged students from Western to become involved in the topic as their numbers (8,000 off-campus residents) represent a formidable force in ensuring that the places they rent are safe and free from health hazards. You can read my open letter to students published in the Western Front on 23 April by clicking here or in my blog on 2 February by clicking here. You can review the study on rental licensing prepared for the Bellingham City Council by clicking here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Coordinator Takes Over at the Campus Community Coalition

Lyndie Case became the new coordinator of the Campus Community Coalition (Click here for the CCC home page) as of April 5th. (Click here to read about the appointment) Lyndie replaces Lara Welker who left the post late last year. At the same time, the Coalition has been moved within the university hierarchy in recognition of the expanded mission of the organization. The Coalition had originally been established under the office of Prevention and Wellness Services as the primary focus was that of alcohol use and abuse. Now the Coalition will report to Sara J. Wilson, a special assistant to Dr. Eileen Coughlin, the Vice-President for Student Affairs and Academic Support Services.

The selection of Lyndie came at the end of a rather extended process during which members of the Bellingham Community, including the Zonemaven, were invited to meet with the two finalists. I found both candidates to be very well qualified but I also had a slight preference for the selected candidate. That being said, Lyndie now has to steer the Coalition into its expanded mission, thus creating an organization that many community members thought (mistakenly) to exist already. Being at the office level of a VP in the university structure will no doubt assist in this process.

It is unfortunate that, at present, WWU is the sole funding source for the Coalition in the form of the part-time salary and benefits of the new coordinator plus $12K in operating costs. The $10K that the Bellingham Police used to provide to the CCC has, unfortunately, been stripped from that department's budget. The police will continue to provide "in kind" services, such as the party patrol and officer time for events such as the Let's Talk forums. However, the city has largely bowed out financially. As late as the 2008-2009 budget, WWU provided $50,000 for the operation of the CCC, not including the part-time salary and benefits of the former coordinator. With the addition of the $10K from the city's police budget, the CCC had $60K from which to operate.

Only last fall, Mayor Pike and President Shepard were dancing cheek to cheek in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Campus Community Coalition (click here to read about that). To his credit, Dr. Shepard not only continued funding the CCC but hired a new director in the face of terrible budget constraints. That being said, the Coalition will have to survive on a starvation diet in spite of the fact that the university is the largest employer in Bellingham and its relationship with the city (let alone the citizenry) is extremely important. Time will tell whither goeth the CCC.

Friday, April 2, 2010

STOP! Rental Licensing Is NOT About Single Family Zoning

As I have been speaking to representatives of various neighborhoods and to individuals throughout the community, I have found that many are conflating the current discussion about licensing rentals in Bellingham with the issue of single family zoning (so-called "rule of three"). These subjects are not interchangeable.

Rental licensing is about basic health and safety issues. Single family codes are about zoning and density. For those who have been reading this blog since its inception in 2007, you are aware that I am a vociferous supporter of the enforcement of zoning codes. Non-enforcement of these codes over the last several decades has had a deleterious effect on our neighborhoods, resulting in an insidious and clandestine infill that changes their character.

While working on the zoning issue, I discovered tangential problems having to do with the condition of our rental stock. These problems overshadowed the zoning issue in that the state of the rentals in Bellingham presents a public safety and health question which cannot be ignored, especially given our highly transient renter population.

The zoning problem still needs attention but licensing rentals will not solve it. There is work to be done on the zoning code itself, primarily in decriminalizing violations by making them civil infractions. The code also can be updated to include recent changes in law relating to the passage of R-71 on domestic partnerships. I fully support such revisions.

Those who purposely confuse these two issues in order to defeat the passage of rental licensing in Bellingham are doing a disservice to the renters of the over 17,000 units now in the market. Lack of rental licensing and inspection deserves debate on its own merits. To not do so would be a detriment to half our population who now resides in units about which neither the landlords nor the renters have sufficient knowledge regarding their safety.