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In Renton: Building Codes for the Poor, Exceptions for the Well-Off

Is Renton unfairly using building codes against low-income and working class families? Some seem to think so.

This month, the City of Renton’s Planning Commission voted to cap affordable units for “mixed-income housing in the CV area”. I reached out to some people with the administration and discovered that it was possibly related to concerns about the quality of development. The development, they worry, will be low-quality affordable units, but, rather than addressing building codes to improve affordable housing quality, the Planning Commission voted to cap the number of units allowed. During the meeting, commissioners argued the cap is to prevent concentrating poverty.

This is just one example among a new trend, residents say, that’s concerning. Even a global health crisis isn’t enough for the city administration. While some businesses received permit waivers and extensions, others were on the defense. As part of relieving communities in shelters, hotels across King County are being used to help tenants maintain social distancing, something nearly impossible in the congregate-living style most shelters provide. One of these facilities, now partially located at Red Lion, is Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC).

Demonstrating the flexibility of the city, a commenter mentioned the resourcefulness of the Community and Economic Development (CED) city department in helping businesses with permits and assistance guidance during COVID-19. Meanwhile, the DESC facility is being pursued by the city for code violations. No exceptions for services helping communities facing homelessness during a pandemic?

Residents point out this goes even further back to regulating RVs for residents. While some Renton elected officials argued earlier this year that building codes restrict development (for well-off communities), the City of Renton’s administration appears ready to use them to regulate the working poor.

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