Roach infestations. Maintenance issues. Absent property owners. A child who develops breathing problems after a tenant who smokes moves in to the unit below the one his family lives in. These are some of the many challenges I’ve heard talking with the residents of Olympia’s apartment complexes. Frustratingly, these are common and widespread concerns.
Tenants often have trouble with property managers and landlords not fulfilling their legal obligations. Beyond this, few know what their rights are. Even fewer are able to make contact with local leaders willing to advocate on their behalf.
According to the Thurston Regional Planning Council, approximately fifty percent of Olympia’s residents are tenants. Unlike homeowners, who often have active neighborhood associations, tenants are often unorganized and underrepresented in local politics. On multiple occasions I have had property managers attempt to kick my volunteers and I out of apartment complexes for campaigning door-to- door. They may be unaware that this is illegal. The law protects the rights of candidates to talk to residents of apartment complexes.
Recently, one of my volunteers contacted the police after an irate property manager refused to allow us to canvass his residents. The officer explained to the manager that it was illegal to prohibit the distribution of literature. With reluctant permission given, we continued. I consider this a small win because we not only defended our freedom of speech, but we also exercised the right of tenants to be politically engaged and informed.
For Olympia’s tenants, easily accessible political candidates is only the beginning. Olympia should follow the example of other municipalities and create a Tenant’s Bill of Rights that clarifies and expands on the legal provisions of renters. For inspiration, let’s look to our neighbors in Tumwater. Unique to this region, Tumwater possesses an Unfair Housing Practices Ordinance. This extends discrimination protections to low-income people who receive Section 8 housing vouchers.
Incorporating similar language into Olympia’s municipal code is critical. It will send the message that this city stands with and values its most vulnerable tenants and is doing all it can to end homelessness.
My campaign has been about ensuring that underrepresented people in Olympia become more visible and have their voices heard. We cannot call our city a democracy if a wide percentage of our residents do not have adequate housing rights. We need to ensure that everyone in Olympia feels dignity within their dwelling and empowerment in their lives. As your mayor, I will fight to make sure that housing rights are protected, strengthened, and advanced.
Together we can build a better Olympia.