Attendees gather at the end of the event to display posters. // Photo by Kenzie Mahoskey
Year after year, Bellingham rent continues to climb, causing many people to live on the streets.
The Bellingham Tenants Union kickoff on May 31 brought awareness to the community about rising rents and how it needs to change, Conner Darlington, a BTU leader, said.
Alex Ramel, Democratic Washington state representative candidate of the 40th District, has faced the same problems as many others looking for a home in Bellingham.
“My son and I had six weeks to find a place in our price range and in the same school district,” Ramel said. “We found one place out of all the houses for sale in Bellingham and I know that there are others who haven’t found a place at all.”
Ramel said he has talked to hundreds of people and asked what the big issues are in Washington, and they have said housing prices and homelessness are on the top of the list.
“The Bellingham Tenants Union is doing a great job of organizing people and there is real political power here,” Ramel said.
Resident Justin Boneau, Democratic candidate for the 42nd District, has been renting in Bellingham since 2005 and has seen a difference in rent.
“When I first moved here my rent was $750 for a two bedroom and 1.5 bath,” Boneau said. “In 2014, I started seeing the changes in my rent and my wages have stayed the same. It hasn’t doubled, but it has gone up by at least a couple hundred dollars.”
Boneau said he is 100 percent in favor of rent control.
He said rent increases should be limited to the inflation rate, plus one percent.
Senior Vanna Orecchio has faced the same issues with renting off campus as many other students.
“I rent here in Bellingham and it’s always a lottery, especially for students. We just roll the dice and hope we find a house and people to live with,” Orecchio said.
Orecchio said students have an advantage of public housing. If things don’t go well, students have campus housing to fall back on.
A working person in Bellingham has no backup plan, it’s either an overpriced rental they’re stretching to afford or homelessness, she said.
Many people at the event wondered where the rent money goes after the landlord collects it from their tenants.
“They do whatever they want with the rent money,” Boneau said.
Local property manager Bob Lycan said the money he collects from his tenants goes towards managing the properties.
“First, you have to pay a mortgage on the property,” Lycan said. “Then, after that, you take care of the loans, operating expenses like ground maintenance, property taxes and water and sewer.”
Rent is increased because the city raises property taxes and water and sewer every year and maintenance contracts want more money too, Lycan said.
“No one stays the same, the issue here is if you don’t raise your rent to pay for expenses you will just lose money,” Lycan said. “This is just business. You negotiate as best as you can but, at the same time, you need good maintenance.”
Elected officials right now hear people complaining but it hasn’t reached the critical mass yet, as we need more seats to be democratic, Orecchio said.
“We need regular working folks to be our voice in Olympia and make the right choice,” Orecchio said.
To become a member for the BTU and help decrease rent prices, you can sign up at the BTU website membership page. https://bellinghamtenantsunion.org/take-action/