Matt Crowley/The AS Review
With Bellingham’s rental housing market dominated by students coming and going, an ever-changing rotation of tenants can make for increasingly hectic conditions for landlords and their properties. Viking Community Builders, in conjunction with Neighbors for Safe Rentals, has created an online survey to gauge the condition of Bellingham’s rental market, from the homes themselves to landlord-tenant relations.
The debate over rental housing was spotlighted when a pair of fires broke out in the York neighborhood in early January, one on Grant Street and another only a few blocks away.
Along with other local citizens and advocates, VCB and NSR have long lobbied for a rental licensing and inspection program that would make landlords responsible and accountable for any and all problems regarding their rental units, from electricity and plumbing issues to fire safety standards and building codes. Currently, no plan exists, though a number of community organizations and local residents are calling for one to be created.
The survey, created by the NSR with major input from member David Hopkinson, is designed to gather information on student and non-student renters and give the Bellingham City Council a sense of opinions on local rental conditions.
The Associated Students Board of Directors passed a resolution last year, acknowledging the problems that exist within rental units across Bellingham, and resolving that tenants “have a reasonable expectation of safety and housing code compliance,” according to the document.
“Initially, the AS was going to sponsor the survey,” said VCB President Wesley Dyer. “But they backed out so [the NSR] approached our club, and since that had pertained to what we had done in the past we decided to help them.”
The survey, which takes approximately 10 minutes to complete, touches on multiple aspects of the rental experience, from landlord relations to overall housing quality. It has not received quite the amount of attention the group hoped it would, but they are hopeful that they will eventually gather the data they need to present a convincing argument to the city council.
“Once we feel like we have a good sample, I think we have over 300 responses last I checked, but once we get enough we will take the results to the Bellingham City Council and present them and let them see what we have,” Dyer said.
Anne Mackie, the current president of the York Neighborhood Association, started the NSR association last year.
“Neighbors for Safe Rentals was created because we wanted to bring pressure to bear on the city council to enforce rental licensing with inspections,” said Mackie. “In order to do that we need an ordinance to be passed. In 2004 there was a lot of discussion at the city council level about the need for licensing. They quickly swept it under the rug.”
Richard Conoboy began writing on his blog zonemaven.com years ago in response to illegal housing problems that were gaining steam at the time. Current Bellingham law states that no more than three unrelated persons can live in one house, a law that is often ignored and hardly enforced. Conoboy said he realized that the problems with the houses themselves were more important. On his blog, Conoboy has said that multiple cities “already adopted rental licensing and inspections in the face of exactly the same opposition as we are seeing in Bellingham.”
“We have housing that has been around for, in some cases, a century,” said Conoboy. “Nobody knows what they look like on the inside.”
Pasco has had a rental licensing program for over a decade. Prosser, Tukwila and Seattle all approved their own programs last year.
“Where the rubber meets the road is when you put the program together,” said Conoboy, referring to the need of community and legislative support to get such a program enacted, then enforced.
To take the survey, head to the Viking Community Builders Facebook page or visit www.surveymonkey.com/s/GKRJB7M.