Navigating Tacoma’s Housing Debate: A Critical Examination of Citizens’ Initiative Measure No. 1

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Tacoma, Washington, is a city that, like many others, is wrestling with the challenge of housing affordability. In this article, we will delve into the ongoing housing debate surrounding Tacoma’s Citizens’ Initiative Measure No. 1, supported by Tacoma for All, which aims to address this pressing issue. While the initiative’s advocates emphasize the importance of tenant rights and affordable housing, critics argue that there are unintended consequences that could negatively impact both renters and property owners. In this comprehensive analysis, we will explore the intricacies of the proposal, debunk some of the false claims made in its support, and discuss the concerns raised by small landlords and independent property owners.

Debunking False Claims:

One of the central issues concerning Citizens’ Initiative Measure No. 1 is the veracity of the claims made in its support. Let’s examine some of these claims:

False Claim 1: A recent Superior Court of Washington, Pierce County filed in court on October 09, 2023

Supporters of the initiative highlight the story of a tenant facing eviction and mounting debt. It’s stated that she owes $12,000, and while the group raised the same amount, she paid only $8,307.00. The implication is that her predicament is a result of unjust practices by landlords and a lack of tenant support.

However, this narrative leaves out essential details. It’s essential to ask whether this tenant accessed her public defender or had the opportunity to do so. Did she choose to hire Attorney Beverly Allen for personal reasons? This claim oversimplifies a complex situation, potentially misleading voters by presenting a one-sided perspective.

False Claim 2: Misrepresentation of Housing Costs

Another false claim made by supporters of Citizens’ Initiative Measure No. 1 pertains to the costs of housing in Tacoma. Specifically, it is suggested that tenants like the one previously mentioned are being unfairly burdened by rent and housing costs. The claim that this tenants’ responsibility is $637.00 while a housing subsidy pays $720.00 may lead one to believe that she is struggling to afford her housing.

However, this representation is misleading. Her current landlord was only charging her $1357.00 a month which is less than the mention of a median rent in Tacoma of $1,650.00 per month.  The above tenant and her landlord accepted a mutual termination (CR2A which refers to Court Rule 2A, a Washington State civil rule which governs agreements made out of court), in addition her landlord gave them a 90-day extension requesting she move out by New Year’s Eve.

False Claim 3: “Big Bad Corporate Landlords”

A prominent scare tactic employed by the supporters of this initiative is the claim that “big bad corporate landlords” are taking over Tacoma’s rental market. The statement that 70% of Tacoma’s rental market is being bought up by these entities sounds alarming. However, it’s essential to understand that this statistic refers to national data and has no direct relevance to Tacoma.

In fact, Angie Zimmerman at Spinnaker Property Management sheds light on the situation by stating, “as of today we have 1006 homes under management, 223 owners who are independent, families, and partners who are trying to build their American Dream. One example is a two-generation family-owned business, upon retirement the husband and wife turned their 197 rentals over to Spinnaker to manage.  All these properties are within the city of Tacoma, they are not ‘big bad corporate landlords’.” This information underscores the fact that most rental properties in Tacoma are owned by independent individuals or smaller family-based businesses, not the faceless corporate giants painted in the narrative.

Voting “No” on Initiative No. 1:

While the concerns raised by Citizens’ Initiative Measure No. 1 are legitimate, it is essential to critically assess the claims being made by its supporters. Voting “No” on this initiative is not a rejection of addressing housing issues but a call for a more comprehensive and nuanced approach to solving them. The potential unintended consequences on both renters and property owners need to be carefully weighed.

Unintended Consequences of Housing Initiatives:

The housing debate also involves a critical examination of the unintended consequences of such initiatives:

Disappearing Small Landlords:

One of the most concerning outcomes of housing debate initiatives like Citizens’ Initiative Measure No. 1 is the potential disappearance of small landlords. These individuals, often retirees, have invested their retirement funds in rental properties or are renting out their family homes. The initiative’s substantial costs and risks may force them to sell their properties or convert them into short-term rentals like Airbnb. In the process, affordable housing options provided by local caring owners could dwindle.

Eviction Restrictions:

The initiative introduces eviction restrictions, potentially preventing landlords from evicting non-paying tenants during specific months of the year. While this aims to protect renters, it may lead to prolonged rent-free stays and financial strain for landlords. Striking a balance between tenant rights and landlord responsibilities is essential to avoid unintended consequences.

Additional Costs and Risks for Landlords:

The proposed regulations impose stringent requirements on landlords, including advanced notice of rent increases and limits on late fees. While these measures intend to protect renters, they may increase the financial burden on landlords. Balancing tenant rights with the need for landlords to maintain their properties is crucial to prevent unintended outcomes.

Comparison to Seattle:

To shed light on the potential consequences of such policies, Seattle serves as an example. Similar regulations in Seattle have led to a rapid decline in rental units and worsened conditions for renters. Nearly 3,000 properties and approximately 10,000 units vanished between May of the previous year and January of 2022, with only 27 new rental units added during this period.

Jim Henderson, from the Rental Housing Association of Washington, attributes this loss to an increasing number of rental protection laws in Seattle, which have made it harder and more expensive for property owners to maintain and operate rental properties in the city. Many landlords are exiting the rental property business or investing outside the city due to these challenges.

Divisive Impact of Housing Debate:

Small landlords and developers in Tacoma oppose the initiative, considering it punitive and harmful to their livelihoods. They argue that it could lead to market instability, increased corporate ownership, and higher rents.

Small landlords, like Debby Herbert and Donna Walters, express concerns about the initiative’s impact on their rental properties. They worry that the rules, such as compensating tenants for significant rent increases, would be financially burdensome for landlords already offering below-market rates.

Market Implications:

Critics argue that the initiative may drive small landlords out of the rental market or push them towards short-term rentals, potentially tightening the housing market further. This, in turn, could lead to higher rents and contribute to the homelessness crisis.

Impact on Affordable Housing Development:

The initiative’s provisions could increase costs for developers, potentially discouraging affordable housing development. Ben Maritz of Great Expectations LLC suggests that these regulations may lead to higher rent costs for tenants and deter private capital investment in Tacoma.

Alternative Solutions:

Instead of imposing regulations that could discourage investment, Maritz proposes the creation of a progressive rental assistance fund. This fund would aim to support both tenants and landlords, enabling them to continue participating in the private rental market while addressing affordability concerns.

In the pursuit of affordable housing, policymakers must carefully consider the potential unintended consequences of their initiatives. While protecting tenant rights and affordability is crucial, the abrupt displacement of small landlords and negative impacts on housing supply could undermine the very goals they seek to achieve. Balancing the needs of renters and property owners and exploring alternative solutions may hold the key to a more equitable and sustainable housing future.

The insights provided by Angie Zimmerman at Spinnaker Property Management emphasize the diversity of property ownership in Tacoma and the potential ramifications of the initiative on local property owners. It’s a complex issue with no easy answers, and it’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons carefully before casting your vote.

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