Citizens’ Guide to Initiative 1, to impose rent control limits and financial penalties in the City of Bellingham

Oct 6, 2021

Key Findings

1. The title of Initiative 1 presents it as a “rental relocation assistance” measure, but the text indicates it would actually impose a series of rent control penalties.

2. The restrictions include a 90-day freeze on certain rent increases, a rent-control limit of 8% over any 12-month period, and potential legal penalties of about $7,800 per rental unit.

3. In July the Bellingham City Council rejected the measure and forwarded it to voters on the November ballot.

4. Council members expressed concern about the legality of Initiative 1 and the risk it would create for the city.

5. Studies show rent control measures distort the market, discourage the supply of new rental units and reduce access to affordable housing opportunities.

6. Rent control measures promote injustice by denying people just compensation and using government action to arbitrarily deprive them of income.

7. Bellingham’s regressive taxation policies directly increase the cost of housing, particularly through sales and property taxes that fall hardest on low-income households.

8. Bellingham officials further increase the cost of housing by charging up to $25,000 to add a single house and charge more for building a new apartment building.



Supporters of Initiative 1 seek to impose a series of rent control limits and financial penalties on the provision of rental housing in the City of Bellingham.

In July 2021, proponents met the minimum requirement of collecting 6,188 signatures to have the measure considered by the Bellingham City Council. On July 12th, the City Council voted against enacting Initiative 1. The Council instead placed the measure on the ballot for the general election on November 2nd.

Having been rejected at the city council level, voters will now decide whether Initiative 1’s rent restrictions and financial penalties should be enacted into law. The Seattle city council recently enacted a similar measure, indicating the issue could soon affect communities across the state.

This Citizens’ Guide provides an overview of the text of Initiative 1, analyzes the effects of local rent control measures on housing affordability, notes official concerns about whether the Initiative is legal, and reviews regressive taxation and other policies that contribute to the rising cost of housing in Bellingham.



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