If rent control and “stabilization” becomes law in Seattle, you can point to last week’s affordable housing town hall as the night it all started. Calling the event “ground zero” in the fight for housing justice, Seattle City Council member and District 3 candidate Kshama Sawant drew a standing room only crowd at City Hall to talk about bolstering tenant’s rights in the city.
“I know there are many, many scare stories,” Sawant said. “The purpose is to have everybody leave here today with a real feeling of inspiration.”
Along with outgoing council member Nick Licata, Sawant lined-up several speakers to talk about their ideas on affordable housing ahead of a public comment period and brief speeches by four candidates seeking to be appointed to Sally Clark’s recently-vacated council seat.
Emotions ran high at the meeting as people shared stories about rent increases forcing them out of apartments. Others blamed landlords and foreign investors for Seattle’s skyrocketing cost of living.
Passing a rent control law in Seattle would first require the state legislature lifting a statewide ban on such policies. While there seems to be little indication today that lawmakers would take up the issue in Olympia, Sawant is making it a key part of her campaign for the Capitol Hill and Central District-centered Council District 3 position.
The parallels to the push for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle are unmistakable. And Mayor Ed Murray’s approach to embracing the call for affordability while moderating the activism with committees and recommendation reports has been in high gear for weeks now.
— Jonathan Rosenblum (@jonathan4212) April 24, 2015
But more radical factions persist. In the coming days, Licata said he would forward a proclamation for the council to vote on to state its support for lifting the statewide ban on rent control. Sawant previously elaborated on her ideas about rent stabilization in an email exchange with CHS. Here are the 10 things CHS heard at the Affordable Housing Town Hall:
- Licata said the state could be violating federal housing law by not letting Seattle take steps to address its affordability crisis.
- David Trotter, a candidate for the at-large City Council Position 8, called the state legislature “bullies and terrorists” for preventing Seattle from implementing rent control.
- According to Sawant, the argument that rent control would discourage landlords from improving units is void since many landlords neglect their units today.
- Former Stranger writer and horsesass.org blogger David Goldstein (aka Goldy) called on the city to build its own housing with the goal of charging the lowest rent possible.
- “It’s now becoming the norm that people are only staying in places for a year or two before thy have to move when the rent increases,” said Tenants Union interim executive director Liz Etta.
- Calling the rent increase after a new landlord took over her apartment an “economic eviction,” Kathy Heffernan said she wanted a tenant’s bill of rights to ensure six months of relocation time after new building owners acquire properties.
- As one of the original organizers of a 1980 effort to pass rent control in Seattle, David Bloom said the time was right to rekindle the fight.
- A north Seattle man passionately argued for building over public parking lots and highways. “We own the land, all we have to do is build on it,” he said.
- Three students from Explorer West Middle School attended the event to talk about building houses out of empty shipping containers.
- Licata, who supports a rent control law in Seattle, said the fight should be framed around changing who’s in control. “Rents are already controlled by the people who own the rental units and they charge any price they wish,” he said, adding that housing should not be a commodity sold on a market.
- An electrical worker invoked Seattle’s history of progressive housing policies, including building none of the first integrated housing projects at Yesler Terrace. “We need to that for us today,” she said.
Who sits on City Council come November could be the biggest factor in passing new tenant’s rights laws in the city. Sawant called on citizens to come to the council’s 4 PM Friday meeting to vet the eight candidates vying for Sally Clark’s vacated seat. “We need someone who is not going to be a cog in the corporate machine,” she said.
The City Council will make its final decision during its Monday meeting.
While the idea of rent control faces some serious skepticism, even from Sawant allies, there’s no debate that the cost of renting in the city has increased dramatically in recent years. In a sample of recent Capitol Hill listings, the median monthly lease for a one-bedroom apartment was nearly $1,700. Studios weighed in just above $1,200 a month and more than 70% of ads were for studios or one bedroom units.