African-American legislators called white supremacists over eviction reform

Mar 13, 2019, 6:01 AM
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Republican State Representative Andrew Barkis represents Washington's 2nd Legislative District. (House Republicans)
(House Republicans)

Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia) is shocked over a letter that accused him, along with many of his colleagues in the House of Representatives, of being white supremacists.

The fiery letter concerned House Bill 1453 a bill for eviction reform that just passed out of the House. Barkis said that eviction reform is badly needed to help with the state’s current housing crisis, but that this bill went too far.

“It basically completely alters the landlord-tenant law by adding provisions to the pay or vacate notice, and many other things in the context of the landlord-tenant law,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

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Barkis, who said he has 25 years of experience as a landlord, brought together the stakeholders — landlords and tenant advocacy groups — to discuss the issues.

“We put together some really good policy — very proactive — to get at this issue,” he said, calling their work “common-sense policy that would help the tenants in the State of Washington and the landlords in the State of Washington to get at the issue.”

Unfortunately, he said, Seattle tenant groups like Washington Community Action Network “hijacked” the legislation. The pay or vacate time for tenants in the state is currently three days; Barkis said that he wrote an amendment to make this seven days, “giving a little more time for people to remedy” their situation. However, the bill that passed changed this period to 14 days.

“When you add all this together, the time element now makes it so hard for landlords dealing with bad tenants, or those who haven’t paid — it can take over 50, 60 days to remove a tenant,” Barkis said.

They also added broader judicial discretion, allowing so-called “bad tenants” to get a second chance after an eviction.

“Landlords don’t set out to evict — Dori, what [tenant groups] have done is created this false narrative that says, ‘evictions equal homelessness, landlords are evicting people, putting them out on the streets,'” Barkis said. “The piece we’re missing is we’re not asking that second question of, why are they being evicted?”

He added that he and his colleagues in the House “want to help those who are truly financially struggling, but we also need to take into consideration the bad tenants.”

After plenty of debate, the bill passed. All 41 House Republicans and three Democrats voted against the bill.

Shortly after, the Seattle and King County chapter of the NAACP sent a letter to every member of the House implying that all legislators who voted against the bill were white supremacists.

We are deeply frustrated with the lawmakers, in particular those we previously thought of as allies, who voted against this bill. By voting no on HB 1453, these lawmakers voted against the interests of their constituents, especially communities of color … This vote demonstrates that it is not only white people who uphold white supremacy in our system. There is no question that eviction reform is a racial justice issue.

The letter, Barkis said, seemed to be a direct attack on Rep. Kristine Reeves (D-Federal Way) and Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle), who both voted against the bill and also happen to be African-American. The idea that these two legislators could be white supremacists is ridiculous, Barkis said.

“These are phenomenal legislators who represent their constituency, their communities, with honor and integrity,” he said. “It’s shameful that they’re being called out, as it is for us, who have demonstrated in the Republican Caucus nowhere near what this letter is inferring.”

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The NAACP went on to state in its letter that “our laws are designed to lock up Black men through incarceration — and lock out Black women through eviction,” pointing out that the African-American community in King and Pierce Counties has a much higher eviction rate than the white population.

“I realize … that in certain segments [of the] Puget Sound region, King County, and Seattle, there are bad actors out there, of course, in every business, and there are still these issues in neighborhoods, and certain things,” Barkis said. “But to lump it all in, statewide, all landlords, all rentals, is ludicrous.”

He feels that playing the race card was an easy way for the pro-tenant side to try to get whatever they wanted without compromising, steamrolling the opposition by slapping the label of “white supremacists” on them.

“They want what they want, they feel that they have the political capital to do this, they feel that the majority needs to lock up, and [are saying], ‘We’re going to pass this policy no matter what, and don’t stand in our way,'” he said. “And when we do [stand in their way] and we present a common-sense, logical argument to the debate — which is what we’re supposed to do here — then all of a sudden, we’re racist.”

Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
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African-American legislators called white supremacists over eviction reform