Lakewood’s Deputy Mayor Jason Whalen “asked Council to think about responding appropriately to some of the Suburban Times articles versus not responding.”
While there is nothing further in the minutes of the February 13 Study Session (p.30) as to what Whalen was referring to, assuming he had in mind the 64 articles that have been published here to date about the City’s controversial Rental Inspection Program (RIP) – or, for the purists, the ‘Rental Housing Safety Program’ – here are four reasons why “not responding” will be the city’s response.
Some nine cities in the entire State of Washington (and there are 281 incorporated municipalities) have a rental inspection program. That means 272 do not. In supporting its decision to adopt the Rental Housing Safety Program, Lakewood mentions what other cities are doing and references but three: Tukwila, Pasco and Bellingham.
2. Saying ‘it was the only option, the other being the status quo’ wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny.
As it’s not true.
On the city’s website concerning his endorsement of this now sixth program targeting properties in the city, Mayor Don Anderson states “My rule is to first try and do what’s right. And in this case, we can do nothing, or we can try.”
There was, however, a third option presented – albeit in passing given the proposal was summarily dismissed: “a robust tenant/landlord outreach educational program” (p.9).
Such an effort suggests the city would have disseminated throughout the city – via its own website, its own Community Connections, its own Facebook page, and this publication – the great wealth of information that is readily 21st-century-Internet-
But the city didn’t go there.
Though conveying all manner of tenant/landlord rights and responsibilities, the 76 sections of this existing state-wide law is now rivaled by the 69 criteria Lakewood has set in establishing its own standards for acceptable housing with its passage of Ordinance No. 644.
The choices then were, in fact, three:
- “Do nothing” (although five property programs hardly constitute doing nothing).
- Overlay existing law.
- Educate the public.
In addressing the problem – “some of these tenants live in intolerable conditions” as observed Councilmember Paul Bocchi; and correctly identifying the means by which to resolve the problem – “they lack the ability or knowledge to access the system” nevertheless Bocchi inexplicably went with the majority and voted for option ‘B’.
3. “They’re scared to complain” is a verdict without evidence.
This statement, though expressed by Bocchi in support of tenants who ostensibly need the government assistance of the Rental Housing Safety Program which program he said would “give tenants living in substandard rental housing a voice” and without which program tenants would be afraid and not give vent to their voice, is not only not true – given a video shown to the council the night of July 5, 2016 – but also likely not supportable.
“I believe that the very fact that the tenant chose to tell their maintenance problem to a local TV station rather than to the city to have it corrected, is a strong indication of what the solution is for any substandard housing in Lakewood,” wrote a commenter recently to an article in this publication.
“That solution is: Tenants should receive notification on how they can report substandard housing problems to the city.
“The city already has the laws and the teeth to correct any problems once they know about them.
“Since the only argument for the RIP program is: Forced inspections are necessary because of the fear that a tenant will not request an inspection from the city because of retaliation from their landlord.
“Well in the KIRO TV case, obviously the tenant was not worried about retaliation from their landlord (retaliation by a landlord is illegal anyway). The tenant probably did not know they could just contact the city or they just wanted to hurt their landlord.
“The forced RIP inspections are not necessary. We just need to let the tenant know the contact phone number for reporting problems.”
4. It’s an election year.
Four city council incumbents, all of whom voted for the Rental Housing Safety Program, have declared their intentions to run again; their announcements made here in The Suburban Times; the same publication containing articles the council apparently is considering whether – or not – to respond to.
But the timing is bad.
We’re in the throes of an election after all, when controversial topics are best avoided, and platitudes – not pronouncements; pontifications – not clarifications; the anonymity of silence, as opposed to aligning oneself, even if alone, with substance, are what campaigning will be all about.