April Barker, self-styled champion of affordable housing and “missing middle” housing, has some explaining to do. Bellingham’s population did not explode over night causing a housing shortage. The shortage of affordable “missing middle” houses—a term that Barker likes to use—was created by real estate investors like Barker herself, who have spent years grabbing up the low-hanging fruit.
Rental ownership is big business in Bellingham where the largest employer, Western Washington University, has exacerbated the housing crisis by failing to provide enough student housing for the past 45 years. Consequently, there’s big money to be made in the rental industry by those who have been collecting houses as commodities, not as their residence. This is the real estate investor’s little secret: buy one property, leverage it, buy another, leverage it, buy another and so on.
When Barker speaks about the housing crisis, she does not mention the impact this speculative buy-up of once affordable family housing has had. As a candidate, she loudly professes support for the un-housed and the families struggling to find stable housing. Yet personally, she owns multiple rentals, making it pretty clear that her money is not where her mouth is.
Consider this before you vote. Candidate Barker owns three rentals, according to her candidate web page. As a professed “business owner,” that is her business: owning rentals. She has rental housing assets in excess of $1,000,000 with an putative rental income (by Zillow) of approximately $48,000 per year. Perhaps she is offering these homes at bargain basement rents but, if that is the case, she needs to clearly explain. These three rental properties were bought for a relative song: one in 2005 for $110,000, one in 2011 for $200,000, and yet another just last year for $215,000. With a current putative value $1,075,000 she has effectively doubled her money. [Nota Bene: The city’s median home price is nearly $500K.] Rather than risk casino stock market investing, the strategy for investments here was to buy rental houses. And it has worked well for many owners, like Barker. It has not worked so well for a city that struggles to find affordable housing for first-time buyers.
This personal financial journey of hers calls into question her seriousness and effectiveness as a candidate for mayor. On one hand, she presents herself as a leader who is lamenting that not enough affordable housing is on the market or being built in the city. While on the other hand, she is an investor who is actually buying up “missing middle” housing. Calls for her to recuse herself when the council considers issues that relate to landlord real estate holdings, and her role as a landlord, are ignored and brushed off as inconsequential. But make no mistake, Barker is part of the landlord class that has created a city full of renters paying for over-priced housing. And she is working diligently in her council role to see that investment in real estate is preserved for those who have the cash.
You will not see her ask anything of the landlord class when she speaks of the privileged. In her mind, the privileged are the working-stiff homeowners in our neighborhoods and the neighborhood associations that she blames for pushing back against her wild-west zoning proposals. Want proof? Watch this short video clip. Perhaps that is the reason she did not invite a single neighborhood representative to participate in her “equity audit,” a recent series of work sessions by the council’s planning committee on housing and affordability.
A quick look at Barker’s political contributors should tell you even more about her attractiveness as a candidate to occupy the mayor’s office at city hall. Here is a sample from the state’s public disclosure site:
Mark Meaker of Harborside Construction ($250)
Peter Dawson of Dawson Construction ($1000)
Larrabee Springs, Inc [Caitac] ($500)
Darcy Jones of Jones Engineering ($250)
Brodie Calandar of Kohanaiki Real Estate ($250)
Get the drift?
This is April’s favorite quote according to her city website page: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
My advice then to April Barker, candidate for mayor, “If you talk the talk, then walk the walk.”