Chainlink fence with a for rent sign for a house.
For rent sign in a Tacoma yard. (Kevin Le)

Tacoma For All is pushing a sweeping tenant bill of rights, and the City is planning a weaker package of changes.

Affordable housing and tenants’ rights have been gaining traction as a hot topic for many American cities especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. While eviction bans were put into place to varying degrees across the country, many people still ended up on the streets as landlords sought to recover their investments while navigating a space with few protections for tenants.

The Urbanist has previously covered a group, composed of Tacoma community members and union members, fighting for renters and tenant rights called Tacoma for All. This grassroots group seeks to bring together people directly impacted by the current housing crisis. Tacoma home prices have doubled since 2015, and rents are on a similar trajectory. Wages have not kept pace.

Putting Protections into Law

Since January, Tacoma for All has been collecting signatures to get an initiative on the November 2023 city ballot that would guarantee a tenants’ bill of rights, similar to Seattle’s suite of protections. The primary pillars of the proposal, dubbed Initiative 2023-01, are:

  • Require landlords comply with tenant protection laws before raising rent or evicting a tenant;
  • Prohibit unfair or excessive fees;
  • Require landlords to provide two notices of rent increases and pay relocation assistance when significant rent increases require tenants to relocate;
  • Prohibit school-year evictions of students and cold-weather evictions;
  • Provide penalties and other enforcement mechanisms for landlords for non-compliance.
Two hands held up forming the shape of a house roof with name, Tacoma for All between them.
The campaign’s logo, representing a home built for all folks. (Tacoma for All)

Each of these main ideas can be explored further by visiting Tacoma for All’s webpage with the full text of this proposal. Better communication from landlords is a core tenet as is relocation assistance if the landlord wants to increase rent and their current tenants cannot afford it. Overall, the proposal seeks to shift the power dynamic more into tenants’ favor after many decades of being tilted the other way. 

Four campaign canvassing volunteers.
Tacoma for All volunteers have been hitting the streets nearly every day, racking up more than 4,000 signatures. But there is still a long way to go to hit their goal. (Tacoma for All)

Tacoma residents are speaking up to show their support, with more than 4,000 signatures collected by the start of May. Canvassers say they heard enthusiastic support not only by renters, but homeowners, business owners, and even smaller-property landlords as well, suggesting broad base support for tenant protections. Affordable housing advocates contend that stable, affordable housing options encourages more money to stay in the community for everyone’s benefit.

Unfortunately, a trend is emerging of real estate firms buying up affordable and modestly priced rental housing stock and jacking up rents. According to the Washington Post, 70% of Tacoma apartments sold in 2022 went to private investors and real estate trusts that are based in other cities and states.

Unionaire Apartments saw rents raised as much as 60% and residents displaced after it was sold to Bellevue-based Curtis Capital Group in 2021 — its second sale in the space of a year as different firms sought to squeeze additional value out of the property and its struggling tenants. Flipping properties to overcharge residents and drain resources from established communities is lucrative business.

A new apartment building in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma.
This apartment building has units for rent in the Hilltop neighborhood, a historically Black neighborhood experiencing the throes of gentrification. Signs in the windows indicate the owner of the building is not a Tacoma local. (Kevin Le)

Competition from the City

This movement and the initiative are viewed as major threats by the City, Tacoma For All Campaign Director Ty Moore said. In April, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, Deputy Mayor Kristina Walker, City Councilmember John Hines, and a number of City staff met with Tacoma for All leadership to discuss the City’s planned tenants rights package, which they had been working on for about five years. Hines is the primary sponsor for the City’s most recent camping ban — hardly Tacoma For All’s biggest fan. The group suggested Hines presence speaks volumes to the stance the City wants to take.

In the conversation, Mayor Woodards asked Tacoma For All how much they would be willing to compromise on their demands and would not elaborate on the specifics of the City’s plan (which was only vaguely sketched at the time) and so campaign leadership did not provide a response, Moore said. In conversing with Tacoma for All volunteers, the general sentiment was to not accept any form of compromise.

Chainlink fence with a notice of a new development to come.
A notice for an apartment development in Hilltop. While more housing is definitely needed across the city, protections need to be codified to prevent this new housing from displacing existing residents. (Kevin Le)

And so the signatures gathering continues. In the coming weeks, Tacoma For All is pushing to collect a total of 8,000 signatures to be submitted to the city by the June 15th deadline. This means a ramp up in canvassing efforts. If you are interested, check out the volunteer sign up form on their website. There are also data entry and phone banking opportunities as well.

Poster of upcoming Tenant Bill of Rights Conference, Sunday, June 11, 5-8pm, at Common Good, 621 Tacoma Avenue.
Tacoma for All plans to host an open door meeting to collectively decide whether to accept compromise or to keep on fighting the good fight. (Tacoma for All)

Woodards had yet to lay out policy specifics for the City plan, as noted in KIRO7 coverage last month. Some proposed code changes are on the table after two years of stakeholder work the City has conducted, but the final proposal is still pending and scheduled to be released at a Council committee meeting at 4:30pm Thursday, May 25th. Tacoma Weekly reports relocation assistance has not been proposed by the City thus far.

The city’s five rental housing code proposed changes touch on one point of Initiative 2023-01 and in a more complicated way. While Initiative 2023-01 requires that landlords provide two notices to increase rent and offer relocation assistance when the increase is 5 percent or more, the city proposes no relocation assistance and the implementation of notice tiers based upon the percent of rent increase: 60-day written notice for 6 percent or less increase, 90-day written notice for an increase over 6 percent and up to 10 percent, and 180-day written notice for an increase of more than 10 percent. The city’s four additional proposed code changes would set eviction standards for tenants who reside on a property but who are not listed on a master lease, standardize renter screening criteria, establish standards on how landlords address late fees during tenancy, and require landlords to provide proof of a Rental Business License when evicting a tenant. The city is now studying Tacoma for All’s initiative to craft an ordinance that may or may not reflect the specific requests that Initiative 2023-01 is asking for. 

Tacoma Weekly, May 15, 2023

On June 11th, Tacoma for All will host a Tenants Rights Action Conference to democratically decide whether to accept compromises from the City or submit the signatures and go head to head with the City’s alternative. In contrast to the City of Tacoma, and for the sake of transparency, the event will be open door and everyone is welcome to share their thoughts. Of course, visit their website and social media accounts to sign up for updates.

Correction: This article was updated at 3pm May 24th to note the City’s alternative proposal has not been unveiled and the proposed code changes may or may not be part of that ultimate proposal, a first draft of which is expected to be unveiled on May 25th.

Article Author
Kevin Le

Kevin Le is a Geographic Information Science (GIS) master's student at the University of Southern California. He moved to Tacoma a few years to go to UPS and has stuck around ever since. He's interested in how we can use spatial data to understand our urban landscape and build better cities for everyone.