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City hall receives petitions for minimum wage, tenant protections

Bellingham initiatives would appear on November ballot

Members of Community First Whatcom walk with signs and a red crate filled with petitions for people to sign.
Members of Community First Whatcom bring petitions for tenant protections and a higher minimum wage to Bellingham City Hall on June 20. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Staff Reporter

Members of Community First Whatcom and their supporters walked into Bellingham City Hall Tuesday, June 20, with an armload of petitions for ballot measures that would increase the city’s minimum wage and provide protections to tenants.

Organizers were confident their two measures would reach the November ballot. Initiative 1 would raise Bellingham’s minimum wage to $1 more than the state minimum wage on May 1, 2024. A second increase, to $2 over the state minimum, would take effect in May 2025. 

Initiative 2 would require landlords to pay a tenant’s relocation assistance equal to three months’ rent if they raise the rent by 8% or more.

The stack of petitions, loaded into a milk crate and walked into city hall on Tuesday, included 7,314 signatures for the minimum-wage increase and 6,406 for relocation assistance. Each petition needs at least 3,093 signatures from registered voters who live within the Bellingham city limits to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot.

Seth Mangold of Community First Whatcom holds a crate full of petitions as two other volunteers help next to him.
Seth Mangold, vice chair of Community First Whatcom, holds a milk carton filled with petitions. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

The Whatcom County Elections Division will certify the signatures by mid-July, Auditor Diana Bradrick said. The city council must vote to place the initiatives on the ballot by Aug. 1.

The widening gap between wages and the cost of living is pushing more people into homelessness while causing broader economic disruptions, said Kerri Burnside, a Bellingham Tenants Union organizer who joined nine others outside city hall to submit the petitions.

“We’ve lost ground,” Burnside said. “We’ve moved from a housing crisis more to a community crisis.”

Since renters find it increasingly difficult to pay for rent, food, medicine and other necessities, discretionary spending at local businesses is suffering, Burnside added.

“Our initiatives are looking out for what’s best for the entire community and shoring up the economy,” she said.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2023 “Out of Reach” report, a minimum-wage worker in the Bellingham area would need 1.7 full-time jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The median rent for a two-bedroom home in Bellingham was $2,000 a month in December 2022, according to figures provided by Community First Whatcom.

Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Bellingham ranges from $700 to $2,100, according to a June 20 Zillow search

Petition drives by Community First Whatcom, then known as People First Bellingham, placed four initiatives on the 2021 ballot in Bellingham: a renter relocation assistance measure, similar to this year’s initiative; a ban on facial-recognition and predictive technologies for police; a ban on using city funds to discourage unionization; and $4 per hour in hazard pay during the COVID-19 emergency, along with other worker benefits. Voters approved the ban on police technologies and the protection for unionization efforts.

The city council passed a resolution one month before the 2021 election opposing all four initiatives, citing “unintended consequences” and questioning their legality.

This year’s initiatives shouldn’t face the same legal questions, Community First Whatcom Vice Chair Seth Mangold said. 

“They went through a strict professional legal review this time around,” Mangold said.

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