Found near beaches where children splash happily about in shallow water while older and braver siblings wander further out to jump the waves – all blissfully unaware of the danger to themselves and their recently constructed fairy-tale home castle – are rip currents sweeping the unsuspecting out to sea.
A current of another type sweeping across the country are the rip-tides of Rental Inspection Programs (RIP), likewise imperceptibly sucking families occupying rental housing, along with their landlords, into a vortex of swirling legislation.
In both cases, safety – let alone survival – is relatively simple.
Sadly, “exhausting themselves by trying to swim directly against the flow of water”, the 46 people who drown annually in the United States who will be the victims of rips, could have self-rescued by swimming perpendicular to – and out of – “the strong, localized, and rather narrow current” and then to the safety of shore.
Though wider-sweeping given it catches literally thousands – with few exceptions – of rental properties – all rental properties in fact within the city – for those 272 cities and towns in the State of Washington (of 281) without Rental Inspection Programs, there is hope.
For the nine municipalities where residents find themselves floundering far from shore, there are exit strategies even still.
Don’t count on a life ring thrown from city leaders however. Your best bet is a strong stroke of your own.
“The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio,” for example, ruled on behalf of citizens October 24, 2015, “that mandatory rental inspections were unconstitutional warrantless searches.”
Under pressure from a successful signature drive to put its rental inspection ordinance on the ballot, the city council of San Luis Obispo voted to suspend the ordinance this February 20, 2017.
Shamil Idriss, who makes his home in the other Washington, is the guest lecturer this Wednesday, March 1, 7 P.M. at Pacific Lutheran University where his theme suggests yet another means of escape: “In the modern world, conflict resolution belongs to citizens, not leaders.”
Even the name of the organization of which Idriss is the president and CEO suggests –like sand feels underfoot to a panicked swimmer – relief in sight and resolution at hand: “Search for Common Ground.”
A true story by way of illustration.
In 2008 the city began serving notice of code violations to a local trailer park. Three years of non-compliance followed on the owner’s end such that the city’s patience was wearing thin.
On February 22, 2011, the mostly Hispanic residents, many enrolled in the local English as a Second Language (ESL) class, received an eleven-page, single-spaced litany of electrical, plumbing, and structural issues.
Many, panicked at the official looking document, sought out their translator.
The ESL instructor, in turn, in a similar plea for help, wrote, “The needs are staggering, but the resilience and capacity to strive for improvement is inspiring.”
A community-wide meeting of locally involved citizens was called and on March 8, 2011, the matter was addressed with members of Code Enforcement, City Planning, and the Police Department, a member of which served as translator in the absence of the ESL instructor.
Twenty days later, a team of contractors and local volunteers, with clipboards in hand, walked the property, identifying problems and itemizing needs.
With $7,000 of donated materials delivered on site, Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together South Sound, members of a local church, and the residents themselves, rolled up sleeves and work begin April 30.
As of this writing, six years later, they’re still there.
No catch-all rental inspection program; no onerous, intrusive, heavy-handed government institution that adds yet another floor, or wing, or even a single cubical to administrate the thing was necessary.
Just citizens, and organizations, stepping up providing the city stood down.
As they altogether, per the vision of Shamil Idriss, “Search for Common Ground.”
Similarly said Tacoma City Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, “You can pass all the laws you want, but it’s the people in the neighborhood who make the difference” (Tacoma News Tribune, April 27, 2009).
Rip currents, and Rental Inspection Programs, succeed in their respective nefarious ends, because those caught up in them “flow back to the open water by the route of least resistance.”
It’s what the hero of the story “Seven OX Seven”, by P.A. Ritzer, reflected upon while watching from horseback the slaughter of the buffalo in the 1870’s. Once we “relinquish our own judgment of what is right and wrong, as well as our freedom to act upon it,” we are de facto passing on that responsibility to the state, “and with it, passing on our freedom.”
“The state then,” or city government for that matter, “assumes greater power with which to rule.”
Our freedoms, like the power of a rip current, are thus “overwhelmed by the dictates of the state.”
By following the path of least resistance on our part, and the usurping of our responsibilities by government, RIP’s are born.