‘Here’s a Postage Stamp to Help You Out Financially’

A tenant advocacy group’s gesture toward members in Bellingham, Washington was distributed online in late November 2020 but misconstrued as a disingenuous bit of “kindness” by an unscrupulous landlord.

Photographs of the envelope, which was provided by the Washington Square Area Resident Council (WSARC), began spreading around Reddit groups in threads with critical titles like “Here’s a postage stamp to help you out financially.” The photograph shows the letter, alongside a note reading:

The stress of COVID can be made worse by the holiday season. We hope this one-time offering of a postage-paid envelope to mail your rent check will relieve some of that stress for you.

The group responded with a statement on its website:

There is a picture circulating on the internet regarding a WSARC effort. We understand it is accompanied with disparaging remarks. Here is an explanation of the truth of the matter.

WSARC is a resident organization, akin to a tenant union. It is not a housing authority. It does not have any control over rental charges, those are set by the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. WSARC works with the housing authority regarding policies and other matters affecting the tenants. But to be clear, WSARC is not the housing authority, and has no control over rental charges.

WSARC normally conducts events, such as learning CPR, understanding Medicare Advantage Plans, personal safety and security, to name a few. Everything we had planned for this year got shut down because of COVID. We can’t even hold a resident meeting to get input from residents about their needs, concerns, and interests. Not even by Zoom or other teleconferencing ability, since so many of our residents don’t have computers.

Please understand, we serve the residents from a resident/tenant union standpoint, not from a regulatory standpoint such as the housing authority, or the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

It’s unfortunate that this picture was posted, no doubt with disparaging remarks, or at least not a full explanation of the situation. Right now all WSARC is able to accomplish is publishing the monthly newsletter. We chose to do this envelope as a way of saying that we know the situation is rough, and at least there is one small way we can help. WE are frustrated that we can’t do more.

We hope this addresses your questions and concerns.

Paul Moore, who chairs the WSARC’s board, told us that his group distributed envelopes to 400 residences in its service area. He also told us that the local housing authority — their actual landlords — was “doing all it can” to provide services to tenants. He added:

We’re very fortunate in that Bellingham (WA) people are very caring and giving. The Bellingham Food Bank, a group of Civil Air Patrol personnel, and others are doing their best to ensure that no resident goes without food. I’ve also heard, but not yet verified, that a group of individuals will help those in need with things like household chores. The “official” agencies, such as Northwest Regional Council, have stepped up their efforts to provide what services they can when and where necessary.

Update 2:10 p.m. PST December 2, 2020:This story has been updated with comments from the WSARC