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A Modest Proposal To City Council And To Landlords

By On
• In Bellingham,

With all the talk recently from the Planning Commission and the City Council about neighborhoods stepping up to the bar to sacrifice low density and livability in the struggle for housing affordability and availability, I think it is more than just to ask those who own over 50% of the housing stock in Bellingham to step up to that very bar. I mean that this time landlords do some stepping. However, since asking landlords to accept more density is like asking a child if she wants more ice cream, I propose that landlords, in the spirit of community, justice and equity, reduce the rents charged to their tenants by 10%.

The immediate effect would be to put into the hands of residents, i.e., tenants, ready cash that would be injected rapidly into the local economy. This creates an immediate boon to commerce while creating additional revenue to the city in the form of increased Business and Operation tax receipts. Moreover, at least 10% of the rental income that used to fly out of the city to absentee landlords, would be preserved here to boost local businesses.

Unfortunately, the City Council cannot require such a magnanimous and just gesture on the part of landlords, however, a well-worded and encouraging council resolution that passed unanimously might tend to weigh heavily on the consciences of those occupying landlordia. We also have several of our own council members-cum-landlords (Mr. Hammill and Ms Barker) who can light the way with a selfless demonstration of cutting by 10% the rents they charge to their own tenants.

Just looking through that equity lens.

About Dick Conoboy

Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

David Camp

May 11, 2018

Well good luck with that, DIck. If you are really serious about equity in the landlord-tenant relationship in a time of low vacancy rates, perhaps you should advocate for a rent control system. It works in many cities, including New York City and Toronto.  It’s not perfect - rent controls create perverse incentives like discouraging new construction and protecting landlords who do minimal maintenance, and there’s always the problem that it is sort of a socialist program. Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the socialist or communist party? Have you read any of the works of Karl Marx? Be careful how you answer because RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA

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Dick Conoboy

May 11, 2018

Rent control being against the law in Washington, the effort to repeal or change the code would be a considerable effort.  I am not saying it might not be worth it but it would be extremely time consuming.  However, what I propose is something that can be done in the immediate by a PC and a council hell bent for leather to find solutions.  Why not ask landlords to step up to the bar and out of the box? 

And please stop with that tiresome claptrap about socialism, Russia, etc.  It’s all argle-bargle designed to seed FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).  You can do better than that, can’t you? Or maybe not.

 

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David Camp

May 11, 2018

Like I said, good luck with that. It’s about as likely to happen as rent control. I really thought you were joking so I responded in kind. Yes I agree all that stuff is argle bargle and it pains me that otherwise sensible people seem to have gone completely off the deep end, sort of like a bunch of Fox News watchers, cognitively captured against their own interests by the most deceptive propaganda imaginable.

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Jon Humphrey

May 12, 2018

Dick, I applaud what you’re saying. Housing is a necessity and should be regulated as such. There are plenty of other things to make money on. April Barker is always talking about how much she cares about social justice. Let her show that she actually does by supporting things that would actually create social justice like fair rent and real low-income braodband. Still, I do get David’s cynacism. The council’s actions show that most of them don’t care about those things at all. I have followed the ADU/DADU issue meetings and I literally watched a landlord with 50 tenants, who makes approx. $1.2 million in 15 years by my low-ball calculation, complain about having to pay $30K to $50K to someone else to have a roof replaced every 15 years. I guess $1.15 Million just isn’t enough for something like that. I have a hard time hearing people that don’t even do their own maintenance complain abou their costs. She makes that much literally just for owning property and sitting on her ass. If she were poor, we’d tell her to get a real job. 

I personally have met people that lived in April’s illegal ADUs. In short, what we have right now are a bunch of council members that say they’re progressive, but are all talk. I don’t expect we’ll ever see any of them put their money where their mouth is. Hell, the last assessor that came through and overvalued all of our properties should probably be in jail along with whoever hired him. His response to me, when I wrote to him with my concerns, made almost no sense. He used fuzzy math to justify all of his calculations. Little did he know that I’m actaully pretty good at advanced math like statistics. Still, over-valuing is their way of making us pay more taxes involuntaliary. So unless we get a less corrupt council, they’re not going to stop. Time to start putting some white-collar criminals in jail. But when I say stuff like that, most people say I’m too extreme :). Oh yeah, remember when they talked about having a stipend to compensate landlords for lost rents?! That’s insanity, we don’t do that for any other business. Every other buisness owner takes the good with the bad, the risk with the reward. If we do that we will be elevating landlords to modern feudal lords.   

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Dick Conoboy

May 12, 2018

Jon,

I have no information that indicates that April Barker has illegal ADUs.  She does have to rental homes.  If you have additional info along those lines, I would like to know the details and the source.  Thanks. 

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David Camp

May 13, 2018

@Jon - I don’t think it’s cynical to expect private businesses to maximise their profits, or rather , to expect them to not give up their profits because of some idealistic request. This is America, right? 

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Jon Humphrey

May 13, 2018

Dick, the only source I have is the one I’ve indicated. That’s probably as far as they’re willing to go. Hence, why it’s a comment and not an article. The authorities are already overwhelmed, and tend not to investigate white collar crime. David, America was not just a capitalist country with stab you in the back ideals for all of its history. It has a long socialist history too. I have always hoped for a balance. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Harmony,_Indiana

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David Camp

May 13, 2018

Jon- I’m a proponent of a mixed economy also - which is what we have in all advanced economies including the US. Despite the falsehoods of the néolibérales who pretend to hate the government that serves them with education, fire and safety, parks, roads, military, and so on in favor of more fakery about how the market is supreme.

however I don’t consider a landlord charging market rent to be stabbing anyone in the back- in fact I think to say so is quite insulting to landlords. Nor am I a proponent of rent control as it creates too many perverse incentives that in effect downgrade the housing stock.

but i am in favor of not putting artificial barriers in the way  of private citizens improving their properties, creating more needed housing, and increasing the tax base. Which is what this whole foufra is about.

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Tim Paxton

May 13, 2018

Do Bellingham house rental / ADU /DADU  pay the hotel and B&O taxes? 

Will the City make illegal existing DADU’s pay back taxes if they ever enforce the existing ordinance?

Should there be a new City Charter Initiative to require all zoning changes to be approved for  each neighborhood by residing registered voters, with an annual review to sunset any recent DADU zonings?

How many Canadians own these rental properties that will get DADU’s?  

Did the City Council just make themselve obsolete with this Neighborhood destroying plan?

Do we want any of these DADU voting council members in higher office?

 

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David Camp

May 13, 2018

@Tim Paxton - you have asked a number of questions, perhaps rhetorically, but in the hopes you are genuinely looking for answers, here’s my attempt:

1) Long-term rentals do not attract B&O tax. If you;re talking about short-term rentals of less than a month, yes they are obliged to pay B&O tax and I think the hotel tax paid by AirBnb is if not in place, in the works.

2) Not sure what you mean by an “illegal” DADU. Lots of people live in back houses perfectly legally because they use the facilities in the main house. There are some back houses that have plumbing, kitchens, etc. - essentially they are separate units - but they were never permitted as such. Is this what you mean? What “back taxes” would they have to pay? Most are long-term rentals, so no B&O tax is due.

3) City CHarter initiative - go ahead - sponsor one and see if you can get enough people interested enough to pass it. My take on the whole thing is that there is a very vocal and organized minority who are vehemently against DADU’s - but a quieter group who think they are ok, and a large group who don;t really care at all.  Why not put it to a vote and see? 

4) “How many Canadians”? Jeez - what’s next, in your outright trolling xenophobia - how many Jews own rental properties? How many muslims? How many cranky xenophobes named Tim?

5) Yes, in your dreams city council is obsolete. Why don;t you run? See how long you can stand the hostility from the peanut gallery.

6) I want every one of these DADU-voting members on the Supreme Court, or at least in the Senate. How can we get this done. Tim?

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Jon Humphrey

May 13, 2018

Tim, if I can provide a more objective comment on your valid questions.

1. I believe David is right on the taxes here.

2. Illegal ADU/DADUs have been around for a long time before the decision was made. Being connected with the college community let me say that it is no secret. It would be prudent for an investigation to be launched into this and back taxes to be paid. However, I doubt we’ll see any action on this. Our authorities are simply overwhelmed with higher level crimes and our council/mayor probably doesn’t want this investigated. Please remember this at election time.  

3. This decision should have been made by ballot. It’s funny how some decisions go to the ballot, but others do not. This was a hot enough topic that the community should have been given a vote.

4. I do not see this question as silly. You are simply asking the question, “is the money leaving the country.” Which is legit. The US is largely owned by foreign interests that strengthen their own economies by exploiting ours. Still, we let them so I guess the average American is to blame. Anyway, I think physical location, and size restrictions, will make the ADU/DADU thing pan out in the long run specifically on this one point. These are structures that will largely be built by Americans that live in and own property in the community. Hence, I think the money will stay in the community. 

5. It would be nice if the council inadvertently weakened their own position by doing this. I think only time will tell. If anything, it shows us that we need a change. Again, common sense dictated a ballot measure on this one. This will not help us address our affordable housing or homelessness issues in any significant way. The DADUs will still be too expensive for the homeless and too small for families. They will be good for transitional people and college kids who will probably live 8 people to a unit and report 2.   

6. I would say no, just because of the lack of respect for the community this decision shows as I’ve outlined in response 3. They should have had enough sense to involve the greater community or at least abstain if they had personal interest, like April Barker and Dan Hammill did. This is also hardly the only issue they have taken advantage of the community on. See the telecom, jail and homelessness articles for more info here on nwcitizen.com. I wouldn’t trust most of them in higher office. I have 2 exceptions. They both did interviews with me here on nwcitizen.com and even then I am not 100%.  

The housing issue is serious. In my previous example I used a landlord with 50 tenants that complained about having to do routine maintenance every 15 years after earning well over a million dollars on rentals. A person like that has to be regulated. If not you will end up with the kind of situation they had in Europe around the time of the Irish Potato Famine.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland) Landlords will charge the highest rates possible, then also force the renters pay for and perform repairs at their own expense. By the time this is done the renters will have no money left over for other necessities. This has happened many times in history before. It is where we’re headed in Bellingham now. 

As far as “fair economic rates go” one of my good friends is an economist. So, I have tried hard to understand our system, but once I got to FIAT currency I had to admit that it’s all made up. The idea of “fair market value” is also all made up. The systems are supposed to be constructed to benefit the largest number of people. If they do NOT, like they don’t now, then they are to be adjusted. Saying that a landlord has the right to charge an unfair rate because it’s the “fair market value” seems like an outdated idea with very serious consequences for our culture. Sure there are some good landlords, but they are almost as mythical and rare as unicorns. However, a person like I’ve outlined before, that is making money hand over fist and doesn’t even want to pay for repairs, is not thankful for the sweet deal they have, and needs to be regulated or they will use basic necessities to take advantage of other people. Housing is a basic necessity, we need to guarantee it. There are other things to make money off of.  

 

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Dianne Foster

May 14, 2018

Thank-you Dick, Tim, and Jon for your comments.   I keep them in a basket for future arguments at the Whatcom Dems meeting.

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