Friday, June 27, 2014

York Neighbrhood Joins in the Call for a Rental Safety Ordinance

The York Neighborhood joins in the call for rental licensing and inspection in order to ensure the health and safety of Bellingham's tens of thousands of tenants.  You can help pass an ordinance by writing to the mayor ( and to the city council (  Tell them that we need to act before more are seriously hurt in preventable incidents.  Read more here on actual situations in Bellingham involving serious injury and near loss of life.  

Here is the York Neighborhood letter:

City Council
City of Bellingham
210 Lottie St.
Bellingham, WA 98225

June 23, 2014

RE:! Rental Registration and Inspections

Dear Council Members:

After 10 years of debate, research, and public input it is time for the City Council to approve a  Rental Safety and Inspection ordinance that will improve the housing conditions for our citizens. In the York Neighborhood we know first-hand that many rental houses are substandard. Two house fires in 2011 were determined by the Fire Marshall to be the result of (1) an electrical failure, and (2) a heating-system fan that was not correctly attached and which fell off and ignited the carpet. In other neighborhoods there have been life-threatening fires. Are we waiting for a disaster to happen?

We hope the wait is over with introduction of the proposed new ordinance addressing rental housing conditions. Our neighborhood is dotted with “money-making machines.” Single-family houses rent for $1,500 to $2,100 a month in York. These profits are not being put back into property maintenance. A walk around the neighborhood shows that. One can only wonder how bad the interiors are, if the outside is any indication. Two surveys conducted by Western students in recent years revealed numerous safety and health problems with the city’s older, deteriorating housing stock, such as we have in York; but we won’t really know how bad it is until an inspection program is launched. Inspections are a necessity.

Complaints filed by tenants have remained low because they fear retaliation in the form of increased rents, their deposits not being returned, or the threat of eviction. To complain is to put oneself one step closer to homelessness. We have heard the idea put forward in Council meetings that the neighborhood associations should take on the duty of filing complaints, but that is not our job. Our job is to build a sense of community, security, and pride; and to foster neighborly relations. Our job is not to promote a neighbor vs. neighbor mentality, or oversee rental businesses that are exploiting their tenants and disrespecting the rest of us with their slum conditions.

To the landlords who do a good job -- and there are many -- we say “thank you” for responsible business ownership and pride. For the ones who are here just to suck out profits, we say “shame on you.”

An inspection program will remove the burden from the tenants to file complaints and will bring a qualified inspector into the equation. Landlords will be required to make repairs, or else. With an inspection program in place, the City can begin to reign in an industry that has gone unregulated for years. In York there is one property owner of 25 houses who also manages many others for absentee landlords. Another owns 11 rentals. These are businesses that have a huge impact on the neighborhood.

Rental registration is a start, but it only creates a listing of owners. This list actually already exists through the Whatcom County Tax Assessor’s database. Alone, a registration program really accomplishes nothing; but coupled with an inspection program, we can begin to turn these deteriorating properties around. With a rental registration and inspection program, the Council is taking a stand for public safety, quality of neighborhoods, and creating a voice for working class families, students, and the poor who cannot afford other housing options.

We are proud to live in Bellingham where a commitment to equality and justice is fostered by our City leaders. Annually the Council leads a celebration in memory of a great leader who dedicated his life to the unheard voices of the poor, Dr. Martin Luther King. His legacy includes equality in education, employment and housing -- yes, housing -- and his work led to the Fair Housing Act in 1968, enacted into law just weeks after his assassination. In 1966 Dr. King moved into slum housing in Chicago to bring attention to the deplorable conditions there. When he spoke before a crowd of 35,000 at a rally supporting fair and safe housing he said, "We are here today because we are tired. We are tired of paying more for less. We are tired of living in rat-infested slums...”

We, as leaders in our neighborhood, along with many renters in Bellingham, are tired, too. We are tired of 10-years of no action on this issue. We urge you to vote for a Rental Safety and Inspection program this time. Let’s celebrate Dr. King’s legacy not just one day of the year, but 365 days.

On behalf of the York Neighborhood Association:

Don Hilty-Jones, President 
Mark Schofield, Vice President
Anne Mackie, Secretary
Lisa Anderson, Treasurer
Tom Scott, MNAC Representative
Cory Anderson, Board Member
Kirsti Charlton, Board Member
Robb Correll, Board Member
Katie Dunne, Board Member
Brian Kennedy, Board Member

No comments: