Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Regardless of each representative's take on the Mayor's resolution, a statement in support of the integrity of single family neighborhoods would have been welcome. I am especially surprised that Terry Bornemann, author of a motion (8 Oct) to force the city to develop a process to enforce single family zoning, did not, at least, second the motion by Louise. Luckily, the city staff work required by that motion is still in progress but one wonders now what will happen when the city management reports its plan to the "new" council.
Also troubling for the neighborhoods was the re-emergence of those (Jack Weiss comes to mind) touting accessory dwelling units (ADU) as a means of infill for single family neighborhoods. We are now not only talking about ADUs which are part of the house (the "mother-in-law" apartment) but also construction of out-buildings or renovation of existing structures (read garages). These buildings are euphemistically called "cottages" by those who wish to prettify the notion. ADUs are also now being pushed as a means of "ownership security" whereby the homeowner would be assisted financially by the income from the ADU, making homeownership affordable. The problem is that taken to the logical and monetarily justifiable end, the owner would move into the ADU and rent the main house at a much greater rate of return. And we know where that can lead - illegal rooming houses - as the financial pressure to rent to a group (whose members can afford to pay more while getting a bargain as individuals) overrides renting to a single family. You can find additional blog entries from me on the subject of rentals and ADUs by clicking here, here , here, here and here.
A note to the Mayor: I still expect that you will adhere to your promise to enforce the single family zoning code. I saved your September 2007 email to me on the subject. Click here to read the Mayor's declaration.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
At-Large Council Member, Louise Bjornson penned an article on growth (that proverbial horse) which appeared today in the Bellingham Herald. You can read the article by clicking here. I cannot say that I disagree with the major premises of her article. That being said, there is a bit of a hollow ring to these phrases:
- ...growth…that does not impair the quality of life we all value.
- ...there is no need to sacrifice
- Our neighborhoods are essential to our quality of life, provide stability and predictability…
My sentiments, too. Sadly, we all know that the neighborhoods have already been impaired by the decades of neglect (that doggone barn door!) in enforcing the municipal code regarding single family zoning and have already been sacrificed on the altar of landlord supremacy. If the council and the city are to stand by the three statements made above, there is quite a bit of work to be done to reverse the neglect and to restore neighborhood character. To return to the status quo ante, vigorous enforcement of the codes is necessary. This will entail the hiring of additional enforcement personnel to assist the sole code enforcement officer. Bellingham has erroneously deemed that adequate for a city of 70,000-plus residents. Our current enforcement officer is stretched too thin. She simply cannot do it all.
So, as Louise states, “...the city of Bellingham must change a number of its building codes to encourage better urban design”, the city might want to remember the existing codes or it might not get much support from homeowners who are suffering the insidious, unplanned and uncontrolled infill of illegal rooming houses. This mess should be rectified before the city moves to devising new codes. Moreover, since selective or deficient enforcement has been the hallmark of the last few decades, who is to say any new codes will not discover similar lacunae when the city faces implementation.
While we are looking at the city of
Louise goes on to say, “Thus, there is no need to try to force inappropriate development into existing single-family neighborhoods by subdividing lots or forcing accessory dwelling units in them. Such shortsighted action would effectively end single-family neighborhoods in
We will be making no "smart choices" if we continue to build upon neglect and the urban blight that such disregard has produced.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I received this from an obviously dissatisfied anonymous reader. It is the last time I will speak to the issue of these pointless screeds.
"can't (sic) you complainers give it a rest??? WHO are you to tell people what they can do in their own house?? If you don't like it -MOVE --you moved there so you can afford to move away -- I see so many people get in a neighborhood and then try to change whatever it is they DON'T like about it after they've moved in --wonder if this will make it in your comments section since I don't agree with you?????? "
Well, surprise! I plucked your anonymous remark from the relative obscurity of the comments section and hauled it here to be seen in the harsh daylight. I did it because your statement speaks volumes but probably not in the way that you desired when you wrote it.
Your missive is that which is known as an ad hominem attack. I see this far too often, especially in our newspapers where the comments to articles are not moderated. As I said, this ploy is called argumentum ad hominem, Latin for "argument to the man" or "argument against the man." In other words, instead of speaking to the issue, you attack the person(s) making a claim or “complaint” as you put it. I have had other, more vicious, sophomoric and amateurish things said about me. Click here and here for a few examples.
I will certainly not “give it a rest” as you have insisted in your first sentence because we have a serious problem here in
I certainly will not move. This is my retirement home. I worked 40 years to get to this point. Surely, whether or not I can afford to move away is not something you know or will ever find out. Your statement, therefore, is a non-sequitur. Click here if you do not know what that logical fallacy means.
Furthermore, I have every right to work to change things regardless of whether my arrival is recent. As I said before in this blog, all of us and our ancestors came from somewhere else. We all have the right to seek redress and, may I be so bold as to state, we have a duty to do so.
Finally, I would like to see a bit more civility in comments, whether they be on my blog, on the Herald's website or on that of the Whatcom Indy. Dismal inanity is no substitute for well-taken and factual arguments.
Monday, January 21, 2008
"I was so glad to read your column in the Whatcom Independent. To our total dismay, as families have moved and sold their homes in our neighborhood, they have been bought up by landlords and turned into rooming houses. What was once a really cute neighborhood is now a loud, trash-strewn, weed-filled, tired-looking eyesore. Our small properties are inundated by cars, which many times are parked up on the sidewalk, as our streets are narrow. In all the times I've called 911 on large, loud parties, I am unaware that the police have ever shown up. One WWW student neighbor, who had almost constant parties one summer, commented that he was "amazed the neighbors never called the police." In reality, we and other neighbors had called 911 multiple times.
I am SO glad to know that someone is taking this situation seriously. I have felt very frustrated about the situation. My husband for a time was part of our neighborhood association and talked with WWU but to no avail. We can't really afford to move out of our neighborhood, but we feel our quality of life is diminished due to the loud partying in and trashing of our neighborhood."
Unless and until the city enforces its zoning codes, this sad story will repeat itself. There should be no shortage of test cases once the city responds to Terry Bornemann's motion for a program to enforce the city's own laws. My advice to Pat in the meantime is to report litter violations to the city's litter control officer, Darren Sandstrom at 676-6859. For parking problems (it is against the law to park on the sidewalk or to park on the roadway facing the wrong direction) call 676-6911 and ask for a parking control official to ticket such violators. Call every day if you have to. If a car appears to be abandoned, call 676-6920 and ask for the vehicle to be tagged and towed (for additional info, click here). For those loud parties, continue to call 911 (ask your neighbors to call at the same time) and ask for a follow up call from a police officer. Report those illegal rooming houses to the Planning Department. Tell your neighbors to do the same. Click here to obtain the complaint form. It's your neighborhood - take back control. Tell the city officials, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' *
*Quote from the movie Network (1976). Read the full text of the quote from the character Howard Beale by clicking here.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The following (in blue) was posted as a comment to my Whatcom Independent guest column of January 17th (click here to read the column) by an individual named Robert. My comments are inserted between parts of his text.
"I think too much area is devoted to single family only zoning. As demographics change to reflect more single people and other non family realities, some of the zoning should change. Mixed use zones can be healthy where high end home owners and lower end renters share the neighborhood. One example is in
There is an enormous difference between a high end apartment building co-existing adjacent to a HUD project and a single family homeowner finding adjacent homes turned into illegal rooming houses. I agree that the city should be cognizant of changing demographics especially since it has failed miserably over the past several decades to encourage affordable housing for thousands of students and low-income workers."Rather than having illegal rooming houses in single family zones, more zones need to allow for greater density. Then some of the big houses can be divided up into separate studio apartments, rather than one big noisy household of renters."
I agree that more zones need to be set aside for greater density; however, the creation of greater density by ignoring the zoning codes and thereby creating illegal rooming houses is not the answer. There may be some larger homes which are suitable for conversion to small apartments; however, this kind of infill must be carefully controlled. I have too many reports already about single family homes being modified on the inside to create more bedrooms so that the owner can cram more renters into the same space so that rent increases are absorbed by the additional tenants. I am also beginning to hear stories of conditional use permits being employed to circumvent the rules on single family zoning."Also it is good to have quiet one person or one couple studio apartments in single family homes where the family can live upstairs while 1 renter can live in what is often called a "mother in law" apartment."
I have spoken before on ADUs (accessory dwelling units). ADUs are a seemingly benign answer to provide additional, affordable housing for a single person or a couple. However, there is a tendency to cede one’s good sense to the dollar as has happened in my neighborhood. That ADU, the owner used to rent, becomes attractive as a place for the owner to live as he or she downsizes in later life while the “main house” turns into a money making source where one can earn, let’s say, $1800 a month versus $500 for that ADU. So now, instead of having one or two renters with an additional vehicle, you have 6 renters, all with cars, plus the car(s) of the owner(s). Water and sewer use rise in the rental but the owner pays no more since single family homes are charged a flat rate. Traffic increases and parking becomes an issue. Do not underestimate the tug of monetary gain. Ergo: ADU = bad idea.
"One good way to create more affordable housing is to have more units and smaller units. There shouldn't be the situation where only big family style houses are available so it takes 8 people pooling their money to live there. If the home is smaller, the household can be smaller and presumably quieter."
We should never have 8 people pooling their money to rent a single family home because that creates an illegal rooming house. This is an insidious means to allow uncontrolled infill and it does nothing to prevent the unlicensed landlord from neglecting his property and perhaps putting the health and welfare of the renters in jeopardy. Smaller homes may be an answer but I would not underestimate the ability of some homeowners to crowd as many renters as possible in even the smallest of houses.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I forwarded this letter by email today to the WWU presidential search committee:
"This letter is intended as a follow-up to comments made at the 15 January session at which citizen input was welcomed as a part of the selection process for a new president of WWU. One individual expressed his concern about the large area of the city now covered by students who rent individual homes in residential areas and, thereby cause a deterioration in the character of the neighborhoods by their large numbers, parties, noise, litter, parking infractions, etc.
There are actually two issues here which are intertwined but necessarily have solutions rooted in different jurisdictions. The first is issue is that of illegal rooming houses in the city, the result of decades of neglect in enforcement of the city’s own zoning laws on single family zoning. This problem is finally being addressed by order of the City Council; however, the outcome of its efforts will not be realized, if at all, for many months. The illegal rooming houses exist also as a result of a pressure for affordable housing, which the city has also ignored, preferring evidently the illegal rooming houses as a sponge to accommodate those who cannot afford other modes of housing.
The second issue is that, by dint of its size, the university, which attracts over 12,000 students each year, is the largest source of rental seekers and forces on the housing market thousands of students who cannot be otherwise accommodated in the dormitories on campus. To this point, there has been an unspoken symbiosis between the city and the university with the university “obtaining” no-cost, off-campus housing, partially in the form of illegal rooming houses, and the city turning its head from the enforcement of codes which would eliminate these illegal rentals.
This hidden "collusion" no longer works as the single family homeowners are demanding enforcement of codes and are becoming more vocal regarding the effect of large numbers of students in their neighborhoods and the deleterious effects therefrom. At the same time, the citizens see the construction of new of academic structures on campus (the most recent costing almost $50 million) and a vigorous push for expansion of WWU to the waterfront. There is no talk from the university regarding the manner in which current students, let alone additional students attracted by the waterfront campus, will be housed. There is little talk of additional on-campus housing – one new dorm in the next few years, maybe. Yet the university, in papers released to a former mayoral candidate, appears to be eager to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and invite proposals for public-private partnerships in order to obtain and maintain a foothold at the waterfront. There is no concomitant effort to enter into public-private partnerships to provide affordable housing for the thousands of students who are deposited on the community each year and who are propelled into an uncontrolled, unlicensed and unregulated rental market. One would think that the university would have more concern for the health and welfare of its students by demanding that the city place controls on such dwellings."
"Hi Dick. I'm a WWU student and I'd like you to hear what happened to the house I live in with 4 other guys. In August of 2006, I rented a nice 3 bedroom house with 2 other guys. It was great, we had plenty of space and our place looked like every other house on the block. In August 2007, our lease was up, and our landlord (LAKEWAY REALTY), informed us that the house was being converted to a 5 bedroom and our rent was going up if we stayed. We agreed to stay and find two more guys. In late August they converted the dining room and front room into bedrooms. This year our garage is full of junk because we lost the common space. We have to park 5 cars outside. If the girls are over we have 7 cars. We have one garbage can that is always overflowing. We run out of hot water every morning. This sucks. We did not want to live like this. Some greedy landlord is ruining the neighborhood for an extra $600 a month. I'm tired of people blaming us. I know the neigbors (sic) hate it. The problem is the landlord. I wish the City would crack down."
I have heard similar - and admittedly anecdotal - stories from other sources. My comments on the rental market can be found by clicking here and here.
Last night I attended the meeting sponsored by the search committee for the next president of
A wide range of issues was discussed, some of which had to do with the qualities one wants to see in the next president, however, a substantial part of the evening was dedicated to the problems which face WWU and its new president in the next several years. Surprisingly, even before the session began, there was talk between Dr. Mortimer and Mr. Philip Sharpe, a member of the Board of Trustees, about student housing issues. Later, an acquaintance of mine, and a resident of Alabama Hill, spoke well about the effects of thousands of students on the community, notably their presence in illegal rooming houses.
The search committee continues to seek input from the community. You can read more on the presidential search at http://www.wwu.edu/presidentsearch/ or you can write with your concerns to the committee, by email at: Presidential.Search@wwu.edu. Mr. Sharpe indicated that he personally reads each email which is sent to that address.My written comments to the search committee will appear shortly as a blog entry.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Ms. Stewart is a member of the group looking at means to implement the current municipal code on single family zoning. This group was formed after a motion by the City Council last October 8th (initiated by Terry Bornemann) "to prepare a pilot program regarding enforcement of complaints relating to more than three unrelated individuals living in a home." I did learn that recommendations to the Council and the Mayor will probably be forwarded within a few weeks after which time they will make decisions with respect to the avenue to be followed.
This is some of the most encouraging news to come from City Hall in a long time.
Monday, January 14, 2008
The following appeared in the 13 January edition of the Bellingham Herald.
“Members of the public will gather at the Bellingham Public Library Tuesday [15 Jan] to discuss what qualities they’d like to see in the next president of
President Karen W. Morse has announced she’ll retire from WWU on Sept. 1, after 15 years. Among the questions to consider are the challenges and opportunities facing the next president, what must he or she accomplish and what personal characteristics and professional qualifications are desirable.
The meeting, led by former WWU President Kenneth Mortimer, will be at 7 p.m. in the library’s lecture room,
For more information on the presidential search or to submit feedback, go to http://www.wwu.edu/president”
Those concerned with WWU’s inaction with regard to addressing the housing issues for present or future students may wish to attend this meeting. The next WWU president should understand and speak to the manner in which the university will finally step up to the plate. Although the presence of over 12,000 students is not the only cause of the existence of illegal rooming houses in
Sunday, January 6, 2008
"Two months ago, the Bellingham City Council re-examined an old ordinance on housing which prevents a home from being occupied by more than three unrelated people. I testified before the Bellingham City Council against this proposal to enforce this antiquated municipal law."
Testified? Well, not quite. You and I and about a half dozen others spoke for three minutes each during the citizen comment period at the beginning of the 8 October 2007 City Council Meeting. Not what I would call testimony, which is a term normally reserved for a statement made under oath. If you, Mr. Lukoff, have made such official testimony about which I am unaware, please let me know.
"I believe the law is discriminatory, likely illegal and could purge many low income people from their homes including single mothers and the elderly. The law makes it difficult to obtain housing for many groups which are different than (sic) the “traditional” Ozzie and Harriet family."
I have, in the last 6 years, yet to come across or to receive a report on any illegal rooming house containing groups of single mothers and the elderly. If your objective is to ensure adequate and safe housing for these categories of
"The law is illegal as it attempts to deny housing based on “marital status” and “family status” both of which are irrelevant to the impact on neighborhoods. There are many “violators,” with little to no negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods."
In the previous paragraph you stated that the law is “likely illegal” but in the space of several sentences you state the code in question has become definitively illegal. The fact is that there are jurisdictions, notably
"Enforcing this will make violators out of honest citizens, where no remedy is called for, or will leave the city in the awkward position of enforcing this selectively."
Who is advocating selective enforcement? Honest citizens are just that until they break the law, after which they are no longer honest citizens. The remedy is the creation of affordable housing and ridding the city of these illegal housing carbuncles festering on the body of our municipality. Instead we are faced with weeping and gnashing of teeth on topics about waterfront development, which will have no effect on growth issues, or the height of overpriced condominium buildings in
"Thus, two married heterosexual couples are able to legally share a house. Yet, two unmarried couples or two gay couples who attempted to share the house would be barred from doing so by the city. The unmarried couple would be forced to become married to qualify for housing. The gay couple would be barred in this situation in acquiring housing, as marriage is not an option for them in
Some large houses in
Don’t blame the zoning ordinance for all of the above, which is mainly due to the lack of affordable housing. The answer is not to twist our zoning ordinances to fit a situation which should be remedied by strong action on the part of the city. Until such time, the much vaunted “character of
As far as I can tell, the zoning code seeks to control densities and has nothing to do with rowdy teenagers, nor should it.
"The courts would do well to strike this ordinance down." You keep talking about the goal of the ordinance.
You keep talking about the goal of the ordinance.Again, the ordinance on single family homes is there to provide a means to limit the number of people who live in an area. True, some families are larger than others, however, the city has to deal with average households in its planning processes. Noise, litter and parking enforcement actions are not the answer to uncontrolled infill.
And then what?
For all your concern about the single mothers, the elderly, the low-income workers, etc., you proposed no solution to the crisis of affordable housing except the status quo wherein illegal rooming houses continue as totally uncontrolled, unlicensed and otherwise unregulated dwellings. Groups of students and low-income workers will continue to live in houses where the electrical, plumbing and other safety elements (e.g. smoke and carbon monoxide detectors) are never inspected. Homeowners will continue to see the value of their investments eroding and the quality of life in their neighborhoods deteriorating.
Recently, one of Bellingham's citizen's made some very good points regarding Mr. Lukoff's article in a letter to the editor of the Herald. Here is the letter in its entirety:
"On the Dec. 16 opinion page of The Bellingham Herald, Aaron Lukoff made a very emotionally compelling argument for the courts to strike down the city ordinance against no more than three correlated people in a singlefamily home.
However, Lukoff’s first premise is that there is something inherently discriminatory about an ordinance that negatively affects some people. The consequences of this would be that all permits and zoning would be useless unless no one was negatively affected. Clearly, that won’t work.
I was a single mother living with one child in a single-family home with two renters at times. This was a perfectly legal situation that helped me financially. Three elderly people could share a house. Perhaps, two gay couples could not, but a social contract might suffice for a marriage, so that’s one way to go.
The purpose behind the ordinance in all cities is to protect people who expect to live among neighbors who operate as a family, not a fraternity house. Fraternities should be on campus. In areas of multi-family zoning, rooming houses could be licensed and behavior controlled. Let’s try to go that way.
Brenda E. Brooks"A final note: In the interest of openness and forthrightness, it would be useful to know if Mr. Lukoff's law practice on landlord/tenant issues involved representing the landlords or the tenants.