Renters cite high housing costs for a variety of woes, including substandard conditions

Washington’s statewide housing crisis is causing more renters to move, more people to face evictions, and more tenants to endure substandard housing, a housing advocacy group’s new report said.

Nearly 75 percent of the 800 tenants surveyed statewide said housing was unaffordable, the Washington Community Action Network said in a statement about the report, “Washington’s Renting Crisis.”

“Washington tenants are rent-burdened, vulnerable to slums and retain few rights in the eviction process,” Washington CAN said.

In addition, some 29 percent of tenants reported a monthly rent increase of $251 or more and 55 percent said that credit checks and eviction checks were a barrier to moving.

In response to skyrocketing home prices and rental rates, Bellingham last year strengthened its tenant rights to include outlawing so-called source-of-income discrimination aimed at tenants who receive housing assistance, delay evictions without cause and to soften the blow of steep rent increases.

The median price of homes sold in Bellingham was $382,800 in 2018, according to a report from The Muljat Group real estate company.

Tom Follis, a real estate appraiser and broker in Bellingham, said vacancy rates in Bellingham remain at an unhealthy rate — ranging from about 1 percent to 2 percent, depending on the type of housing.

A healthy rate is 3.5 to 5 percent, he said.

Meanwhile, average monthly rents in Bellingham are running about $625 to $950 for a studio apartment, depending on its age and location, Follis said in a Monday interview with The Bellingham Herald.

A two-bedroom apartment near Western Washington University rents for about $1,200 a month and a three-bedroom home rents for about $500 per room per month, he said.

Follis said he isn’t seeing an increase in evictions for any reason other than tenants who violate terms of their lease with pets, illegal activity, noise and damage issues.

The report’s sampling was conducted by email, personal contacts and social media from June 4-18, 2018, the report said.

“The report quantified a reality that many Washingtonians understand,” Washington CAN said. “Renting is becoming more expensive and precarious. Often, they are stuck in bad living situations. In order to fully address Washington’s housing crisis, we need both state and local governments to strengthen tenant protections. “

Other findings include:

57 percent of respondents said that they were living in substandard conditions.

Almost 20 percent of respondents said that they had moved in the past two years because rent was too high, according to the report. About 65 percent of those were Western Washington residents outside Seattle.

16 percent of respondents — five times the national rate — said they had been through an eviction.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.