Every now and then a truly bad idea gets far enough along in Bellingham’s city governance that it gets the attention of the full Council. Rental unit licensing may soon be a case in point, depending on what happens at the June 20 afternoon City Council meeting. The Council will be taking up this issue at approximately 2 p.m.
The city’s rental housing stock is not in perfect shape, but additional government intervention is unlikely to improve things to any great extent. The proponents of this bad idea imagine that the judgment of one city inspector will be more discerning than the collective judgment of landlords, tenants, insurance inspectors, and property managers. Further, that the one person will be able to make a measurable difference in our city’s health and safety, and do so in a fair and even-handed manner. The proponents would like the rest of us to go along with them without requiring much in the way of convincing evidence.
What we have here is a collusion of people within government who want more power and money along with a few citizens who believe more government control would be beneficial.
One perspective of Bellingham’s form of city government is that the Council’s role is to represent the citizens, especially against intrusions of government bureaucrats who have grown too fond of their own power. A traditional part of the role has been holding public hearings for proposals that are contentious. At this point, there is no public hearing planned for the rental unit licensing proposal, and staff is advising the Council to not hold one. Why not? There really is no defensible reason. Council members, if you take any action at all to put this proposal forward, be sure it includes a public hearing. If you do not, you will be negligent in your duty.
In the interest of full disclosure, my husband and I have owned rental properties for many years. We are in the process of divesting ourselves of them, so at this point we have very little personal stake in the outcome of this issue. However, we have plenty of personal experience in running good-quality affordable housing.
Based on that personal experience, the proposed licensing would do little to improve the rental housing stock. Instead, it would impose another fee on citizens and ensconce yet another bureaucrat in a task that has no need to be done.
This proposal is evidence of only one thing: the planning staff has too much time on its hands. With new building projects in a slump, that’s not surprising. Instead of adopting this unnecessary licensing, how about handing out some furlough slips?