By Jack Mayne

A long list of Burien residents took over an hour of City Council time on Monday night (Sept. 16) to push for the approval of a proposed Rental Housing Inspection Program which the Council will consider over at least the next several weeks.

At the meeting, several citizens made support statements during the public comment period near the beginning of the regular council meeting. The rental housing program the city is seeking to install is one approved by the Washington Legislature.

City Attorney Lisa Marshall said the total program will be discussed in two sessions of the Council, one was Monday night and the second part on “just eviction” and notice of sale notice will be brought to Council on Oct. 7. The reason the first part, creating an inspection program, was the city wants Council to approve a coordinator position to oversee and operate the program.

47 percent rent increases
During the hour-plus time of public comments, many expressed solid support for a city ordinance outlining the rental inspection program.

Rupika Madhavan (pictured left), a Highline School District teacher for four years, said researching the rental issue in Burien has revealed that “average rental increases in south King County (was) 47 percent” between 2012 and 2018.

“Here in Burien, we have seen average annual rental increases of 11 percent,” Madhavan said, “we have learned that national investors are buying and selling apartment complexes here causing quickly rising rents and waves of displacement. For example, follow property acquisitions in 2016 and sold in 2018 they walked away with $35 million in profit and in that time, rents were raised between 10 percent and 15 percent, families were displaced and discrimination and neglect were common.”

Fox Cove crisis
“After low income families living in the long neglected Fox Cove Apartments were suddenly given only 20 days to vacate, many folks set out to learn what policies the city could adopt that could have prevented the Fox Cove crisis” and others like it.

With research, Madhavan said such crises can only be avoided by the city taking steps, such as rental licensing inspection program, a city housing office and “just competition.”

“If members of this Council vote to support these policies, it will become the law and we will have taken a huge step forward to protecting children and families in Burien,” Madhavan said.

Gaby Palma told Council of problems being a renter in the city, especially those living in buildings “because no one in management actually cares about the tenants.” She said for those who don’t know what it is like to rent in Burien, “It is terrifying.” She thanked Councilmember Krystal Marx for recently showing up at a meeting of tenants.

Rent $700 higher
Shannon Dowdy (pictured right), a board member of the Highline Educators Association, said she was told by a Fox Cove resident that the rent was $900 but the newly renamed Inspire 160 condos is charging $1,675 for the same unit.

“I guess it made me sad they had to leave just to make space for developers and that the city cannot protect them,” she told the Council. The way to protect students, she said, “is to give them housing.”

Highline educators signed on to support the housing coalition “because, as educators and as union members, we support our students, our families and also working people and we are hoping you can do the same for our residents and so they .continue to be residents,” Dowdy told the Council, adding the way to protect vulnerable youth is to give them housing.

Don’t tear people away
“The best way to protect them is not to tear them from the communities that they grew up in and not to tear them from those communities,” she said.

Several cites around the nation have adopted various schemes for rent control. For example, in Los Angeles, renters in apartments covered by city ordinance should only see their rents rise between 3 percent and 8 percent annually — the percentage is tied to the Consumer Price Index, which this year is 4 percent.

Resident and council candidate Kevin Schilling said the Council heard on Monday night “a lot of positive ways we can enhance and improve our city government’s operations and services.”

Burien City Council candidate Cydney Moore, running to fill the seat of retiring Councilmember Bob Edgar, said she asks voters what they think is the most important issue facing Burien and “overwhelmingly they say homelessness.

“The only way we can address the homeless issue is by helping prevent that. When we have opportunities like we do tonight to take steps that can help to keep our families in homes…we should do that.”

Julissa Sanchez, an organizer of the South King County Tenant’s Union, told the Council she gets crisis calls “because they are being displaced from their home.”

Police chief on gangs
Police Chief Ted Boe updated the Council on criminal street gang activities. He said there are 10 “active gangs” in the city, with 264 “known members,” and with less than one percent of the city population “gang affiliated,” much less than the 1.12 percent of Los Angeles. He said gangs are recruiting younger members from elementary and middle schools and are local to the city and surrounding areas, adding “gangs don’t follow city and jurisdictional boundaries.” Younger members are often more violent, Boe said.

Tagging on buildings, fences and elsewhere expresses the presence of a gang and is a method of communications. Gang members expect residents to clean up tagging and the chief said a graffiti removal program (is) free of charge.

The chief also noted that no city in South King County is without gun violence.

Burien is joining other area cities with support of a “youth and family services” section in Des Moines on Highway 99. It is manned with a sergeant and a detective and is paid for with a King County Council grant along with area city contributions. Its focus, he said, is on “community problem solving, education and investigations.”

Then Councilmember Krystal Marx posted some comments on the chief’s update presentation.

“I believe it is more important than ever to address the facts,” Marx wrote. “There are 10 active gangs with a presence in Burien, with 264 known members. or roughly have a percent of Burien’s population. That does not mean that they are unique to our city, or only operate within the confines of our city boundaries; these are a regional presence that will require a regional approach. Comparatively, 1.12 percent of Los Angeles’ population is considered gang affiliated.”

“We know that gangs are recruiting at younger and younger ages, often starting in elementary school with ways of making membership attractive,” said Marx. “A 1999 study in Seattle found that elementary school kids exposed to seven or more of 19 measured risk factors are 13 times more likely to join a gang than those exposed to none or one (nationalgangcenter.gov/spt/risk-factors).”

“Remember the ‘gang unit’ within the King County Sheriff’s Office?”” asked Marx. ”As of August 16th, it has been operating as the Youth and Family Services Section with Burien’s own Sgt. Chad Meyers from our High Visibility Team (HVT) leading as one of two FTE. This is an effort funded by the King County Council as a regional resource focused on Community Problem Solving, Education and Investigations, and will be based in Des Moines with other partners.

Marx added that the Burien area has seen a 30 percent increase in shots fired incidents, a decrease in the homicide rate, and a decrease in Part 1 crime rates. This is data taken from the Shots Fired Project, which is an effort made in collaboration between the Sheriff’s office, the county prosecutor and public health to document every single report of gun violence in King County, down to the last gun shot fired. The contagion theory of gun violence suggests that individuals who are close to those experiencing gun violence have a higher likelihood of experiencing gun violence themselves.