The Tiki Apartments, and now Merkle Hotel, tenants have become the face of the housing crisis in Tacoma. These residents have been forced out of the homes they’ve lived in for decades. Eighteen households at the Tiki apartments had to leave Tacoma, and at least four Merkle tenants face homelessness because landlords won’t accept them based on income. Displacement for redevelopment is just part of the crisis. Some tenants are being given 20-day notices to leave their apartments because they have asked their landlords for repairs; landlords also terminate tenancies so they can raise the rent for higher income earners. Finding housing within 20 days is close to impossible, and if tenants do find a place, the cost to move is often prohibitive. The result? People move in with family, leave Tacoma, find a shelter (though most are full), live in their cars, or end up on the streets. More than 50 percent of Tacoma pays rent, and many of us are just one unforeseen circumstance away from a total crisis. Fortunately, brave and committed tenants have come together to advocate for protections that benefit the entire city.
On Sept. 27, the Community Vitality and Safety committee voted to send the revised Rental Housing Code to full council, and we expect a vote in the next month. These protections are going to make an immediate difference in promoting housing stability and preventing homelessness. And while we certainly still need Just Cause protections, tenants are supportive of this proposed code and want to highlight some key items from it:
- The notice to vacate requirements help mitigate the ever-growing crisis tenants are facing when their homes are sold, renovated, or demolished. A notice of four months provides time for these tenants to find alternative housing. The proposed code includes a 60-day notice for other terminations of tenancy, and while Just Cause protections are preferred, this additional time will make a difference for tenants facing no-cause eviction.
- The $2,000 relocation assistance funds made available to low-income tenants being displaced eases the burden of moving into a new home after being evicted.
- Notice of enforcement activity will give tenants the opportunity to know whether or not a potential landlord has an open enforcement action for violating City code.
- The 60-day notice to increase rent requirements gives tenants more time to make arrangements before rent is increased.
- The distribution of tenant rights and responsibilities by the landlord helps ensure that tenants are aware of their rights.
- Retaliation is prohibited means that landlords cannot take adverse action in response to tenants exercising their rights.
- Installment payments permitted requires landlords to agree to receive upfront move-in costs over an extended period of time. This will ease the process of moving and help prevent homelessness.
- There is a strong enforcement mechanism for this code, including significant fines per day per unit. This helps to ensure landlords follow the laws.
A movement of tenants is growing, and we are at a significant turning point in Tacoma to address this housing crisis. Let’s take these immediate steps for housing justice by passing these protections.