Council adopts study of landlord-tenant issues, safe & affordable housing 1By Jack Mayne After a parade of people protested the issue of forcing occupants of the Fox Cove apartments to vacate for a new owner to upgrade the slum-like building, the Council on Monday night (Oct. 15) adopted Councilmembers Lucy Krakowiak’s and Krystal Marx’s motion to study and figure ways to keep Burien’s housing affordable and safe while still protecting owners and developers. The Council session passed the issue unanimously after numerous residents and stakeholders discussed the crisis brought on by the forced ejection of tenants of the severe conditions of Fox Cove and the short-term notices of eviction. Council also learned that a wider range of future protections was underway by city staff. ‘So close to home’ Councilmember Lucy Krakowiak moved the Council to adopt a package of community assisted tenant protections to be adopted and added to the city code, and she was backed up by Councilmember Krystal Marx who added she wanted “as many as possible stakeholders” involved in the process. “I do think that owners and landlords and rental assistance groups be at the table for this because I think that when they hear from community they are going to see the need for this and they are going to feel the buy-in the community has in support,” Marx said. She also wanted involved the ecumenical elements of the community along with educators, students — a study as “full a package as possible,” she said. “As somebody who has experienced homelessness personally for six months in a very poor low income town in Grays Harbor as a child, this hits so close to home that I am terrified for the children and I hurt for the community,” said Marx. “I want to see this fixed in a sustainable way. I think that is why it is so important to have everyone at the table for these discussions. Councilmember Bob Edgar said he supported the city moving forward but to include representatives of property owners, landlords and managers in the discussion of a final “balanced approach that protects tenants, protects landlords and it protects property owners.” Councilmember Pedro Olguin said there was also a need to consider a “funding mechanism’ at the city level to enforce and perhaps cite “some of these slumlords that are out there.” He also wanted the tenants to have access to ways to defend themselves when evictions and other actions affect them. Mayor Jimmy Matta wanted to find ways to get affordable financing for the expensive process of constructing potential housing for low income people so they can make money on their investments and still provide the housing. “This is a tough issue,” Matta said. Residents supported The Council heard from 30 people, mostly citizens of the city, and mostly – but not all – spoke on behalf the potential eviction or forced move of residents of the Fox Cove Apartments. These residents have been told to move so that a new owner of the facility at located at 149 SW 160th Street in Burien can upgrade the buildings. People are upset about the eviction notices, which give several an Oct. 31 deadline to vacate their apartments. Many with recent eviction notices have until Oct. 31 to vacate their homes. Council adopts study of landlord-tenant issues, safe & affordable housing 2Rev. Lina Thompson, a pastor of Lake Burien Presbyterian Church, and speaking for the Ecumenical Circle, said many of her group was at the Burien Council meeting two weeks earlier when it rejected a move to provide $18,000 in relocation funds in order to determine from where in the city budget the money would come. Thompson said her group wanted to help the Fox Cove residents and “to date we have raised $12,000 for a Fox Cove Tenant relocation fund for those to be evicted,” and “we would like to continue to work with the city staff to provide support, including technical assistance in setting up good systems for disbursement of funds that is coordinated without causing further hardship to Fox Cove residents” and that this is a short-term fix for a longer problem. La Shana Coe, a Fox Cove tenant, said it was important for the Burien Council to “pass something permanent to protect the citizens of their community. “As the community grows, we can’t just displace who is here … because the people here, we pay taxes. We do what we are supposed to do, this is so overwhelming, I am so tired of this. Something permanent has to happen.” Cole’s mother, Marilyn Tukes, a Seattle resident, said that a forced move of Cole is “a very emotional time for our family only because of all the stress of my daughter having to move on instant notice.” She said she feels for “all these people who have to move and have no place to live.” She said in Seattle the “gentrification there is awful, don’t let that happen to Burien … protect your people in need so that you don’t have a jungle, you don’t have millions of homeless people all over on every single corner. Help these people who need it.” Julia Wilder of Renton said she was in Burien on behalf of her son who lives in the Fox Cove Apartments, whose new owner said will face rental increases to finance the necessary upgrades in the bad condition of the rental units. Her son is disabled and can’t search on his own for a new place to live. The city needs to approve relocation services and a place to “provide service where people come to get actual hands-on help.” Council adopts study of landlord-tenant issues, safe & affordable housing 3Ecumenical support Haley Ballast of John Knox Presbyterian Church (pictured, left) said the “situation at Fox Cove has been heartbreaking for me” and she “can’t imagine what it would be like to not know where my children would go to school.” She urged the Council to join with groups to develop a renter’s rights action plan of policies to “strengthen protection for renters in Burien.” Her group would also “like to develop a proactive rental licensing inspection ordinance that would require rental units to meet basic health and safety standards, to extend a 90 day notice period that alternates when buildings are being rehabilitated and to require large landlords who displace residents for rehabilitation to pay a portion of the relocation.” Council adopts study of landlord-tenant issues, safe & affordable housing 4Pat Haven of the Community Educator’s Caucus, a “unionized group of education workers,” for “racial and economic justice,” said Highline district students have been impacted by the growing “housing crisis” in South King County. “As teachers we are “seeing students and families who are being displaced, facing eviction and housing instability throughout the region.” She said the increases are forcing a decrease in enrollment at Highline schools, which Haven said Superintendent Susan Enfield said has cost the district $3.5 million in state revenue this year. She recommended a number of ordinances to control the situation. Haven also recommended relocation services “within city offices.” Fox Cove resident Ottoway Addison said he hoped the Council would approve some assistance because “we are people in the community.” Sam Pace, a Kent realtor, said some regulations can hurt more than they help, that a 90-day notice period is not worthy if there is nothing to rent at the end of the period. He said regulations that do not help actually “compromise the opportunity to engage in actions that actually help.” The people being displaced need a place to live and he suggested the Council should support condominium reform at the Washington Legislature but did not specify what that would do. Also during public comment period, the Council heard from resident Frank Collucio of Burien, who said a one percent increase in property tax was damaging to citizens of Burien. He said the tax would be paid by renters, “but the majority of the tax will be paid by homeowners” and “property taxes are too high.” He suggested the Council cut the money from the city budget rather than increase property taxes and that the taxes affect the housing prices of Burien. Resident Charles Schaefer said if relocation assistance was not provided to the Fox Cove residents, they would likely become homeless adding to the city’s problems. “So you are going to be paying for this either way.” City Action on Fox Cove City Attorney Lisa Marshall said the city staff has researched a 90-day eviction ordinance but that any new statute would not affect those who already had been served with notices, in effect, it would not help the Fox Cove residents. She said that subsequent to the Council request, the city has learned that written termination notices have now been given to all of the tenants and “all but six have move-out dates of December 31, 2018 or January 31, 2019. Accordingly, passage of an ordinance requiring 90 days’ notice of termination will not apply to the Fox Cove tenancies.” Marshall said that she has developed some new suggestions for measures that would affect future situations, such as relocation assistance for evicted tenants. provide all households with adequate time to search for new housing and move to that place. The city proposal said that under such an ordinance, renters would be considered displaced when their housing is slated to be torn down or “undergo substantial renovation, have the buildings substantially changed like turning the apartment into a hotel, or have some specific use restrictions removed, for example a property is “no longer required to rent only to low-income renters under a federal program.” Such an ordinance could have included a potential “tenants relocation license” that would cover “all renters” in a building or that “only low-income renters would receive relocation assistance of $2,000.” Such an ordinance would require property owners to pay half of that amount and the city would pay the other half.” Another provision would prevent landlords from “raising the rent in order to avoid applying for a Tenant Relocation License.” She said the measure could make violators “subject to fines and penalties of up to $1,000 per day.” The city attorney said the Council could adopt a “just cause eviction ordinance” that “protects tenants from being forced to leave their rental home without reasonable justification” but she noted the state already has a law that prohibits unfair, retaliatory evictions, which is a critical tenant protection. Further, the city could go beyond the state landlord-tenant regulations that addresses “such things as actions considered to be harassment or retaliation; rent increases; month-to-month leases; limits on security deposits, pet damage deposits and move-in fees; tenant waiver of rights or remedies; repair and maintenance requirements; fair housing/illegal discrimination.” Human Services Manager Colleen Brandt-Schluter said the city has assembled a team to meet with Fox Cove tenants to begin working with families on relocation plans that include overcoming barriers expressed by residents and others, such as requiring documentation, finding available units and working with housing vouchers and relocation issues. Some costs would be involved and Council would have to authorize, she said. Potential city action Brandt-Schluter told Council that she could adopt the state and federal legislative priorities the staff presented, or make revisions to the legislative priorities or, lastly, not adopt the state and federal legislative priorities. Councilmember Nancy Tosta wondered if having a wide group of stakeholders was a good idea, suggesting that too many people could bog the process down. She wanted a feeling from City Manager Wilson on his ideas on moving forward. She said the regulations could have some “unintended consequences” that should be avoided. Wilson said the Fox Cove matter has spurred the city staff to consider many of the issues on an immediate basis with many emails and conversations on the immediate problems. “At the same time, concerns about not having regulations that does not produce results but that has an unintended consequences that were discussed tonight,” said Wilson. He said he would anticipate coming back with a plan by the first quarter of 2019 with a package “which would meet the needs of Burien” and not just copy what some other city might have done.]]>