Thursday, July 10, 2014

Rental Safety and Health Founders at City Council Meeting

On Monday evening the city council decided to move forward with the most lax and ineffective version of a rental licensing ordinance.  On 23 June, the council's Planning Committee had provided three versions of a rental health and safety ordinance to the Committee of the Whole for consideration at the 7 Jul council session.  You can view a summary chart of those options here.

Unfortunately, the Committee of the Whole chose Option 1, the one proffered by Council Member Murphy.   You can review this watered-down version of an ordinance in its entirety at the council's webpage here - Draft Ordinance 6-23-14 Registration Only.  The other two versions can be seen also at the same page here.  Even these two are not gems but at least they provide for inspections.

I provided comments on this measure during the public comment period at the beginning of the city council meeting.  You can view a video of my comments here at video counter number 11:50.

The problems one encounters with the selected version of this ordinance is that there is not one shred of a requirement for inspections.  All is complaint based, just as we have had for the past decades, the process that does not work.  Below is what Tim Johnson at the Cascadia Weekly had to say about the council's actions on rental health and safety.   You can read the entire Gristle column, Call of the Mild, here where Tim has hit the nail on the head.

"Council... appears to have lost their way on a registration program for rental units in the city, appearing to jettison every beneficial part of the original proposal in favor of—basically—a telephone directory of landlords tacked on to the bare bones of a complaint-driven system. As several commenters at their meeting noted, there is already a directory of landlords, and there is already a procedure that allows tenants to complain of their shabby tenements. Thus, after more than two decades of work on this issue, Council appears on the threshold of glossing gossamer, cementing in place a “feel good” system already deemed inadequate.

Property managers and brokers, of course, joyously love it, as it compels them to do nothing. It does nothing to alter the power imbalance between the owners and sellers of private property and the 54 percent of city residents who rent from them. As commenters noted, tenants who complain get evicted and they get their references shredded.

The centerpiece of a responsible rental licensing program are audits and inspections that yield data that informs policy about the city’s rental housing stock. Even modest inspections put landlords on notice that they can no longer rely solely on the silence of their tenants on issues of public health and safety. Over the past three years six fires have displaced nearly 20 renters in Bellingham. None of these properties had been reported to the city under the current complaint-based system since most of the tenants were unaware there was a problem and untrained to recognize one.

Council’s malaise on these issues, we’ll argue, is that—with notable exceptions—no member is pushing particularly hard in one direction, and there is no member at all pushing back hard the other way to yield dimension and stakes, even urgency, to their discussions. The public does arrive to scold and beat them, but generally only when they’re already on the precipice, having committed third and final to a mediocre plan. 

The council has voted to have a hearing on this questionable measure sometime in September as it was recognized that the council docket was pretty full in August.  I would suggest further that the council wait until at least October, when one large stakeholder group, the WWU student body, is back in town.  More importantly, the tenants must come forward and call out the council on this risible and ineffective choice, essentially a confirmation of the status quo.


Anonymous said...

onestly Mr Connoboy are you REALLY expecting that the City council has any interest in the Bellingham hicks that vote.

City council mysteriously (VERY MYSTERIOUSLY) are Real estate puppets for reasons one can only guess and various real estate and rental people have some super expertise in tugging the council stringsl because for 20 YEARS no mayor or council member has been allowed to suggest effective controls

The council seems oriented to public disservice as witness its unbelievable indifference and out of contact action of intalling traffic controls that enabled outside interests to attack Bellingham voters and take their fines to benefit outside profiteers

Now there you have an indicator of ineptitude and contempt as you could find.

So what now with their blatent refusal to act reponsibly against the underhand currents of special real estate and landlord concerns

If I were a city business owner I would be screaming against the discrimination that charges EVERY city business with taxes and controls while the real estate people and landlords are granted toothless exemption to do as they please without consequence and without oversight.

Mr Connoby logic in this town is hardly breathing. We live in a morass of the power of special interests just as in Washington DC
and I wish I could uncover the alleyways by which the Real estate and rental interests here are so totally in control of successive councils and mayors Its disgraceful


Zonemaven said...

Dear Hopeless,

I think there are several on the council who actually do have an interest in us "hicks". That being said, there are others who gave a totally different impression of their philosophies of government when they ran for office. This I find reprehensible.

And yes, critical thinking is essentially out the window. Disengenuousness reigns.

Follow the money.