Tacoma For All and the fight for tenant rights

March 4, 2023, Tacoma for All community meeting. Photo Provided by Tacoma For All (Instagram)

By Kaya Heimowitz and Sonja Black

On Saturday, March 4, 2023, approximately 60 community volunteers gathered with Tacoma for All in order to prepare for the group’s canvassing efforts, aimed at getting the Landlord Fairness Code on the ballot. The proposed code consists of regulations that protect tenants from unfair rent hikes, cold weather evictions and other dangerous or unfair practices that landlords currently engage in.

The proposed regulations are in direct response to the current housing crisis in Pierce County. According to the Tacoma For All website, rents in Tacoma have hiked up 43% in the last few years, with renters evicted at the highest rate in the state of Washington. Approximately half of all Tacoma tenants are “rent burdened,” meaning they pay over a third of their income on rent. If passed, The Landlord Fairness Code would function as a band aid, immediately helping people struggling with housing insecurity. It would especially help more vulnerable communities, like the elderly and children.

As part of the training, people spoke about personal experiences with housing insecurity and instability. Community members were also encouraged to discuss why they believed in the Landlord Fairness Code. One of the more commonly mentioned reasons was that a person can’t fight any other battle without first having secure housing. Volunteers also mentioned that housing is a foundation for people to then go on and work to improve their communities.

Zev Cook, a Campaign Field Organizer for Tacoma for All, explains that the organization is confident in getting 8,000 signatures by mid-June. “The real challenge is going to come after we get this on the ballot. There is going to be an opportunity for the city to present a significant challenge for us,” Cook said.

Cook believes the city may have an alternative, less urgent, and more watered down plan for tenant rights. Tacoma For All wants to make sure that if the Landlord Fairness Code makes it on the ballot, it is the original version they drafted. Their proposed code is made up of the following regulations: required six months’ notice for all rent increases, banned rent hikes when code violations exist, relocation assistance for rent hikes over 5%, and capped excessive and unfair fees and deposits. The code also prohibits school year evictions of children and educators and bans deadly cold weather evictions from November through March. Tacoma For All’s proposed Landlord Fairness Code will ensure that people struggling with housing insecurity get some degree of immediate relief. 

If the Landlord Fairness Code is passed, then Tacoma For All would like to advocate for social housing. Social housing is affordable apartments built and managed by the government for people with incomes ranging from no income to middle-class income. By establishing social housing, Tacoma would follow Seattle to continue working towards housing justice.

In order to reach the goal for signatures, Tacoma For All has set up 50 shifts a week for volunteers to pick up for canvassing. Each shift is two hours long and occurs at varying locations around the city. Since most Tacoma For All volunteers are workers and students, most of the shifts run in the weekday evenings or during the day on weekends. Students and other adults interested in volunteering can sign up at tacoma4all.org.