Renters deserve safe, healthy places to live

Councilman Paul Bocchi.
Councilman Paul Bocchi. Photo by E.G.Kane

The Lakewood City Council believes low-income housing should not mean substandard housing. As more people move to the South Sound because of rising rents elsewhere, we have an opportunity to share our beautiful city with them.

We are committed to taking steps to guarantee the caliber of housing in Lakewood lives up to expectations.

That’s why last year the City Council sought a practical, legal and effective way to ensure rental properties meet health and safety standards as required by law, and we adopted a Rental Housing Safety Program.

Previous education efforts and reactive programs conducted by the city, which were aimed at improving poorly maintained properties, had a limited effect on improving the rental housing inventory.

Many properties in Lakewood are properly maintained; unfortunately, there’s also a substantial number of poorly maintained properties with deferred maintenance or more serious issues.

These properties may have unsafe living conditions such as inadequate heat, dangerous electrical systems, lack of running or hot water, structural issues where roofs, floors and walls were improperly installed or are not maintained, or broken fire safety devices.

Experience has shown these issues can’t always be seen by outside observation and if not corrected pose a serious safety hazard to those living there.

Unless something different is done, problems will remain undiscovered until the properties have reached a point of no return and abatement is the only option, which has historically been the case in Lakewood.

Unsafe or unhealthy living conditions impede a person’s quality of life and a child’s ability to succeed in school. Those same conditions adversely impact surrounding neighborhoods and the community at large.

In 2018, Lakewood will launch its Rental Housing Safety Program aimed at providing safe conditions for all tenants. Lakewood’s program is modeled after similar programs in other Washington cities that also have high percentages of rental properties.

Those who provide rental housing are engaged in a significant and important economic activity in our community. A well run, effective inspection program that certifies the health and safety of rental units will enhance the reputation of this business sector and of Lakewood as a place to live.

While some landlords have expressed opposition to the program, many also acknowledge there is a problem. One proposed strategy is to target “bad landlords,” but who makes the decision about good vs. bad?

A program targeting specific properties is illegal. Under the city’s program, all properties will be inspected in five-year cycles by independent, certified inspectors. They will verify that housing complies with applicable health and safety standards under state law and ensure corrective action, when needed, is accomplished.

More than half of Lakewood’s 60,000 residents live in rental housing. Many are elderly, disabled or families with children. Not addressing the issue of substandard housing is a disservice to all our residents.

Lakewood is a caring community. This is a logical step to making it a better place to live.

I believe a rental housing safety program contributes to the vision of Lakewood as a community with safe and attractive neighborhoods, well-educated and healthy children, and where caring about one another extends to all residents.

Paul Bocchi was elected to the Lakewood City Council in 2012. His term expires at the end of 2019.