The City of Lakewood’s Rental Housing Safety Program (RHSP), commonly known as the RIP, generates several intense points of view. It is my plan to write an article relating each point of view as follows:
1. RIP – Renter’s Viewpoint.
2. RIP – Landlord’s Viewpoint.
3. RIP – City of Lakewood’s Viewpoint.
Today, we have the opportunity to view the RIP from the renter’s point of view. To be clear, one renter’s point of view.
On Friday, October 27, 2017, I met Ms. Elizabeth James at Starbucks. After reading one of my articles, she volunteered to share her story regarding how Lakewood’s Rental Housing Safety Plan (RHSP) impacted on her family.
I introduced you to Elizabeth in my The Suburban Times article last week titled Westside Story – Joe Boyle Fails City Council.
The following is what I was told by Elizabeth.
After graduating from high school, Elizabeth went on to earn two community college associate degrees. One degree is in the social sciences and the second is in pre-law.
Elizabeth ended up working a good paying job as a 440-Union construction worker. She earned $28 — $34 an hour working on the Seattle tunnel project.
Her significant other, Paul, earned between $14 and $15 an hour.
In 2012, Elizabeth and Paul moved into a Lakewood two bedroom house near the Star-Lite Drive-In Swap & Shop.
The beginning rent was $700 per month. The old house, built in 1943, had its problems, but for Elizabeth and Paul along with their four children and two dogs, it was home.
When they moved in, Elizabeth’s landlord told them that as long as they paid the rent on time and did not create any problems, the rent would never change. True to the landlord’s word, the rent never changed even five long years later.
Elizabeth’s and Paul’s combined income would have allowed them to rent a better and more expensive house, but they wanted to underspend to guard against any unknown future financial emergencies.
Underspending for rent proved to be a right decision because eventually, the young family would suffer many tragedies.
Tragedy 1: Elizabeth’s mother contracted a severe illness, but she lacked the financial resources required to pay for her medical care.
Tragedy 2: Elizabeth quit her job to become her mother’s full-time caregiver. Because she and Paul had underspent on their rent, the $700 monthly rental was a godsend allowing them to keep a roof over their family’s head while she took care of her mother.
Tragedy 3: Elizabeth’s mother died of liver cancer.
Tragedy 4: Elizabeth’s health took a turn for the worse which prevented her from returning to her well-paying job.
Tragedy 5: Elizabeth’s four-year-old son set himself on fire resulting in second and third-degree burns on his arm and chest. The incident was caused by combining a cigarette lighter left within reach and a four-year-old’s curiosity.
Tragedy 6: On top of all the above adverse circumstances, Lakewood City Council approved the RHSP, which effectively stripped Elizabeth of her ability to manage her own life and housing arrangements because of what she considered intrusive government interference.
Obviously, Lakewood City Council voted for the RHSP with the intention of helping low-income Lakewood citizens like Elizabeth.
From Elizabeth’s viewpoint, six members of Lakewood City Council did not help but instead hurt her family when the RHSP caused her to become homeless.
Elizabeth stated that her landlord told her Lakewood’s RHSP caused them to decide to sell the property. Based on that, they served her a 30 day vacate notice.
During a separate interview, her landlord confirmed that Elizabeth’s account regarding the impact of the RHSP was accurate.
The landlord went on to say that if it were not for Lakewood City Council’s enactment of the RHSP, they would have continued renting the house to Elizabeth for $700 a month.
Tragedy 7: Elizabeth and Paul, lacking the necessary funding, moved out of the home they occupied for five years on Sunday, October 28, 2017, without a new rental in place.
Tragedy 8: Elizabeth needs cash for rental application fees, rental deposits, first months rent and in some cases last months rent. Then there are pet fees and cleaning fees which generate the need for more cash. We have to add the cost of packing, renting a truck and moving. Add to that new utility deposits, and it becomes apparent moving to a new rental can become an expensive proposition. Add it all up, and we are talking about cash Elizabeth does not have.
Tragedy 9: Lakewood’s RHSP has proven to be a family home wrecker for Elizabeth. She and the four children temporarily moved in with friends in King County. There was no room for Paul, so as of my interview, the best he could hope for was living on the streets.
Tragedy 10: Elizabeth has two pit bull dogs. As she looks for a new rental home, the pit bulls may generate extra expense or preclude her from renting properties where pit bulls are not allowed. The pit bulls were not a problem until Lakewood City Council’s misguided effort to help low-income renters triggered unintended consequences.
Tragedy 11: Elizabeth’s family is losing their coveted connection to the City of Lakewood. Examples include their association with Clover Park Schools, Clover Park Technical College, and Five Guys Burgers. Lakewood City Council’s RHSP has destroyed this relationship which will have a lifelong impact on her children.
Tragedy 12: Based on Elizabeth’s research, it is not likely she will find a similar two-bedroom rental house for $700. Her next rental will probably cost $1200 — $1400 per month.
Lakewood City Council’s RHSP reminds me of the Boy Scouts of America leader who attempted to teach his scouts to help others. At their next monthly scout meeting, the scouts reported that six of them assisted one elderly disabled woman across the street. When the scout leader asked why it took six scouts to accomplish the good deed, the scouts reported, “She did not want to cross the street.”
In Elizabeth’s case, she did not want Lakewood City Council’s help in the form of the RHSP. The RHSP has only helped to destroy an already struggling family.
In November of 1885, the City of Tacoma drove the Chinese out of the city with a forced march to the train station. All Chinese were made to leave their homes and businesses and were forced to board a train to Portland, Oregon. Running the Chinese out of Tacoma was called the Tacoma Method.
For Elizabeth and her family, the result is the same as the Chinese, except Lakewood did not provide a free train ride to King County. Perhaps our city’s RHSP should be renamed the Lakewood Method.