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Friday, July 3, 2020

Affordable housing discussed at event with Western’s Socialist Alternative Club and Bellingham Tenants Union

By Julia Furukawa

It’s hard to find a house in Bellingham.

Western’s Socialist Alternative Club, a branch of the national organization which promotes socialist ideals, hosted an event with the Bellingham Tenants’ Union on Wednesday, Feb. 7 in Academic West. The event was intended to foster conversation around housing affordability. The meeting was lead by Socialist Alternative officers Felicia Santana and Eric Lawrence.

Bellingham Tenants’ Union leader and former student Galen Herz gave a presentation that focused on the principle of housing as a human right

On average three new people have moved to Bellingham every day from 2012 to 2017, according to Census Bureau data.

However, only one new housing unit has been built each day. Herz said this leaves the community strapped for affordable housing, and forces lower-income residents out of Bellingham.

Senior Amber Hilton said she was shocked at the lack of housing when she moved back to Bellingham after a few years of being away.

“When I came back, it was like trying to rent in the Bay Area,” Hilton said.

Herz said the lack of affordable housing hits some Bellingham residents harder than others. He said that in talking to Bellingham residents, those who consistently get their rental applications turned down by landlords are lower-income, people of color or using Section 8 housing vouchers, which are subsidies granted by the government to those in need.

“I think sometimes we have a lack of awareness of the real power we have as people. We can create concrete, winnable demands.”

KAIA GRANN

Herz said that if Bellingham truly wants to be a forward-thinking city, that action must be taken to make housing more affordable.

“I don’t want to see Bellingham become a playground for the rich,” Herz said. “Are we going to be progressive in our actions and not just our words?”

Around 25 students, community members and Socialist Alternative members were at the meeting and almost all nodded their heads in agreement as Herz spoke.

Attendees spoke about their troubles with finding affordable housing and many shared stories of manipulative landlords who rented them shoddy homes.

Socialist Alternative member Kaia Gran said she has had landlords who intentionally did not fix problems because they knew they had the upper hand.

“This active negligence is something that we can use to really see the power that this elite landlord class has over working-class people,” Gran said.

While many attendees were frustrated with the current housing situation in Bellingham, Gran provided encouragement.

“I think sometimes we have a lack of awareness of the real power we have as people,” Gran said. “We can create concrete, winnable demands.”

Some of those demands will be expressed at the  Bellingham Planning Commission’s upcoming public hearing about zoning laws on Feb. 15.

More information on the Bellingham Tenants’ Union can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/BhamTenantUnion/.
More information on the Socialist Alternative group can be found at: http://socialistalternative.org

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