Local organization Tacoma for All is canvassing for an initiative to protect renters.
For many young people, starting college also means the start of taking on personal financial responsibility. Students apply for scholarships and grants, take out student loans and get jobs in order to pay tuition and strive towards educational goals. But it’s another bill that can be a rude awakening for young adults living outside of their parents’ homes for the first time: rent.
Conventional wisdom states that a good rule of thumb is to pay no more than 30% of one’s monthly income in rent. That means if an individual makes $3,000 a month–about the median monthly income for individuals in Tacoma according to the US Census Bureau–they should aim to pay $1,000 a month in rent. As of 2023, this is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s rental market.
The minimum wage in the state of Washington is currently $15.74. If one were to work 40 hours a week on minimum wage (which would already be a struggle for most full-time students), they would take home around $2,000 a month after taxes. That means paying $1,000 in rent monthly would take up about 50% of this individual’s income.
Combine that with other expenses such as groceries, phone, internet and eventual student loan payments, and it becomes clear that living on minimum wage alone is not sustainable.
But finding an affordable place to live isn’t the end of the battle. Many people are able to find a home that fits their budget, only to be forced out later when the landlord decides to raise the rent by an exorbitant amount.
This happened recently to tenants of the Unionaire apartments, who, as reported by Tacoma Weekly, faced a 60% rent increase at the start of this year. Sadly, there are very few protections in place for tenants against these kinds of predatory practices.
A group called Tacoma for All is trying to change that. Formed last year amidst heated debates around Tacoma’s housing crisis, this grassroots organization has proposed an initiative they are calling a “Tenant Bill of Rights.” They are currently petitioning to get the initiative on the ballot this November.
Zev Cook, an organizer for Tacoma for All, worked in homeless outreach for five years, and was frustrated by the lack of housing resources.
“As a social worker I had extremely limited power to actually help people find housing for the simple fact that rent was too high and there weren’t resources available,” Cook said, “That’s what inspired me to get involved with this campaign and work to change the system to reflect housing as a human right.”
Citizens’ Initiative 2023-01 would add a new chapter to the city’s municipal code outlining new requirements for landlords. If passed, it would require landlords to comply with health and safety laws before rent raises or evictions, as well as offer tenants relocation assistance if rent is raised by 5% or more. It would also set a limit on excessive rental fees and provide mechanisms for these new requirements to be enforced.
The initiative would also bolster renters’ rights. Among other group protections, it would protect students and educators from school year evictions. It would also prohibit evictions between November 1 and April 1, to prevent tenants from facing homelessness in cold weather.
“This initiative is meant to ensure that working class families can afford to live in the city that they work in,” said Cook.
The organizers recently reached a milestone of 1,000 signatures on their petition–a great victory for Tacoma for All and proponents of housing rights, but still a long road ahead to reach their goal of 8,000 signatures by mid-June. Currently, they are in need of more volunteers to help canvas for signatures and get the word out about their cause.
“To get involved folks can fill out the volunteer form on our website and I will personally reach out to discuss how they can contribute to the campaign in a way that works for them,” Cook said, “We are a volunteer-managed and driven campaign that highly values making our work accessible to all community members.”
If you are interested in learning more about Tacoma for All, details can be found on their website, tacoma4all.org.