Welcoming new officers: Our police officer recruiting and retention strategies are paying off. Last week seven new recruit officers were sworn in (photo above) and a new officer graduated from the Basic Law Enforcement Academy. This is in addition to our swearing in two new recruits in December. Mayor Seth Fleetwood has approved a number of incentives and other strategies to retain current employees and increase the number and diversity of candidates for vacant positions. For example, retention bonuses were made available to long-time police personnel as incentive for them to delay their pending retirements until new officers are hired and trained, recruiting bonuses are being offered to employees who successfully recruit new officers, and other steps are being taken to boost recruitment efforts. New recruits have many months of training ahead, so we won’t see these new officers in action for some time, but their swearing in is a welcome celebration of our steady progress filling vacancies. See Addressing Public Safety Needs for details about the many steps we are taking to address public safety.
Focus on downtown: New strategies to foster a safe, welcoming environment in Bellingham’s downtown have been underway for more than a year and are continuing, with more than one million dollars in City investments directed toward downtown in 2023. These initiatives were identified with participation and feedback from the downtown business community and other stakeholders. We are seeing positive results from our focused efforts on safety, sanitation and outreach services. We recognize, however, that public health and safety concerns continue. Bellingham is not alone in facing challenges in our downtown, nor can we solve them alone. The conditions we see and concerns we hear from community members and business owners are the result of many issues converging downtown (and elsewhere) that are felt among our peer cities regionally and nationally. City leaders across the country are working to address similar problems. See Addressing Concerns about Downtown Bellingham for more details about actions we have taken and look for opportunities in the weeks ahead to participate in further discussions about downtown. Despite continued challenges, City leaders remain positive about the future of downtown and continually strive to support the downtown community. We are committed to finding effective ways to address the challenges we face and working with our stakeholders to take further steps to address problems.
New renter protections: The Bellingham City Council gave preliminary approval for a new renter protection measure requiring landlords in Bellingham to give tenants 120 days’ notice before raising their rent. The ordinance with this change received unanimous support by the Council at the February 27, 2023, meeting. It will come before the Council for final consideration on March 13, 2023. If it receives final approval, the ordinance will take effect 15 days later, or on March 28, 2023. Until the effective date, landlords need to provide 60-day notice to be in compliance with current regulations. After the effective date, if the new ordinance is approved, landlords will need to provide 120-day notice. City officials will provide additional guidance after the ordinance is final.
More renter protections anticipated: An estimated 56% of Bellingham residents are renters, with approximately half of those renters spending more than one-third of their income on rent. Bellingham is currently experiencing an extremely tight rental market, with a 1-2% vacancy rate when typically a 3-7% vacancy rate is considered healthy. These circumstances leave people cost-burdened and in a difficult situation, unable to afford other basic living expenses, priced out of adequate rental housing, and subject to the impacts of a competitive marketplace and/or exploitive landlord practices. In addition to extending rent increase notice requirements (see item above) the Bellingham City Council discussed a range of other possible rental protections and heard updates about state-wide rental protections under consideration by the state Legislature. More discussion and opportunities for public feedback on this topic anticipated this spring. View the Council’s discussion at the February 27 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Join the Conversation
Tonight! Whatcom READS in person or via live stream: Bellingham Public Library and Whatcom READS host author Jess Walter discussing his novel The Cold Millions on the Mount Baker Theatre Main Stage tonight, Friday, March 3, at 7 p.m. This event is free to the public, however, tickets are required and can be ordered here. The event also will be aired live on BTV (the City’s television channel, also viewable on the City website) and live streamed here on YouTube. Join the conversation! Check the Whatcom READS website for details about this and other events.
Improving Public Spaces
Investing in Bellingham’s future: Thank you to everyone who joined us this week to dedicate and celebrate our new Pacific Street Operations Center, a vital, visible investment in the future of Bellingham. More information about the project in this recent news release and in our video tour. Below Mayor Seth Fleetwood (center) cuts the ribbon officially opening the building, with assistance by Public Works Director Eric Johnston (left) and Parks & Recreation Director Nicole Oliver (right).