Tenants’ rights activists in Tacoma, Washington, recently achieved an important court victory over the landlord-dominated City Council by defeating an attempt to confuse voters concerned about housing and tenants’ rights. Now, activists with Tacoma for All will go full steam ahead to mobilize voters to pass Initiative #1, a tenants bill of rights.
Over the summer T4A collected more than 7,000 signatures to secure a place on the upcoming November ballot for a tenants’ rights initiative, now known as Initiative #1.
Quickly after T4A’s initiative was approved to appear on the November ballot, Tacoma City Council passed a different Tenants Rights measure, and moved to place it on the ballot as an alternative to T4A’s Initiative #1. In other words, voters would have had to choose T4A’s grassroots initiative measure OR the City Council’s bill, which had already been passed during a council session. While the council’s bill contained some new tenant protections that would have been complementary to Initiative #1, if implemented by itself the council’s bill would have allowed many predatory practices to continue unchallenged.
T4A and United Food Commercial Workers Local 367 responded by suing the City of Tacoma in an effort to prevent the city’s measure from being on the ballot. They argued that because the city’s measure had already been voted into effect, the results of the election between the two competing measures would have been inconsequential for the city’s measure.
On Aug. 30, a Pierce County judge ruled in favor of T4A and UFCW 367 in their court case against the City of Tacoma, marking an important win for the people of Tacoma and its tenants. Judge Timothy Ashcroft shared in his ruling that he found the City Council’s attempt to place their bill on the ballot as an alternative to a grassroots initiative “unconstitutional” and “not a true alternative.”
Mayor of Tacoma Victoria Woodard — a strong supporter of the City Council’s measure — acted under the influence of the generous support from landlord lobbyists like Jim Henderson, President of Landlord Solutions, a company that helps landlords evict people. This firm’s lobbying has maintained its undue influence on a council where a third are landlords themselves.
Corporate landlords own a vast amount of real estate in the Tacoma area. These profit-driven corporations monopolize the housing market and alienate people in low-income brackets from their right to a home. In 2022, 70% of apartments sold in the United States were bought by private investors. Rent in Tacoma increased more than 40% in the last five years, the highest year-to-year rent increase rate in the Puget Sound area (Apartmentlist Data 2022), while holding some of the most regressive tenants rights laws in Washington, which has resulted in an alarming eviction rate.
The city’s competing measure was an unsuccessful tool attempting to sabotage a progressive movement supported by the people. The plaintiff’s victory in this case is momentous for the working class of Tacoma as it will allow voters to decide the future of Initiative #1 outright. However, the fight continues as the ruling itself does not firmly prohibit the City Council from using similar tactics to derail citizen initiatives in the future.
This is also not the first time this tactic has been used by the council to attempt to sabotage progressive campaigns, such as when they attempted the same tactic with the fight for the $15 minimum wage.
Initiative #1, if passed, would penalize landlords for unethical behavior and expand housing rights for all Tacoman families and tenants. The initiative outlined by Tacoma for All “is designed to protect families, promote community, stabilize the rental market, and reduce homelessness.” Landlords would be obligated to provide relocation assistance to tenants facing unfair rent increases. Furthermore, protections would be granted to students and senior citizens, and includes a restriction on evictions during the city’s coldest months, November through April.
T4A is continuing to mobilize hundreds of people to pass Initiative #1 in November as well as raising funds to pay legal fees from the case against the city. The housing advocacy group now looks to get voters to sign cards pledging to vote for Initiative #1.
In late August, The Party for Socialism and Liberation hosted a table at the Tacoma Hilltop Street Fair where Party volunteers discussed the initiative with community members and collected pledge cards. T4A has held canvassing trainings throughout the city in parks, community centers and places of worship to prepare volunteers to talk to their neighbors. Many of these participants know first-hand the indignity and destruction evictions cause. The PSL will continue to support the ‘Yes on Initiative #1’ campaign by hosting upcoming phone banking and fundraising events. Passing Initiative #1 is a crucial step in obtaining working-class rights and taking the fight to a greedy landlord clique.