Progressive Seattle City Council members unveiled a pair of bills Thursday they say will help protect average residents looking for housing in Seattle’s cutthroat rental market. District 3 representative Kshama Sawant is proposing new legislation to limit move-in costs and “ease moving barriers” for Seattle renters. A measure from District 1 rep Lisa Herbold seeks to prevent landlords from turning down prospective tenants due to their source of income.
To put a finer point on the need for their proposals, the council members were joined by members of Washington Community Action Network, an advocacy organization working on housing justice, who released a ‘Renting Crisis’ report on the challenges faced by renters in Seattle.
Of the 303 renters surveyed, 95% rated housing as unaffordable, more than 70% said poor housing conditions were negatively impacting their health, and the report indicated that minority and LGBTQ tenants were more likely to experience problems with the conditions of their rental units and resulting health problems.
Almost 90% of respondents said that the biggest barrier to moving into more affordable housing was the prohibitively expensive up-front fees a landlord can charge a new tenant.
“Housing affordability in Seattle is an LGBTQ issue, is a race issue, is a class issue,” said Gender Justice League co-chair Yani Robinson. Robinson spoke at the WCAN July 21 press conference announcing the results of its report. Residential and commercial renters, representatives of several community organizations, District 3 representative Kshama Sawant, and District 1 representative Lisa Herbold were also in attendance.
WCAN conducted an online survey of Seattle renters in April 2016 to investigate the following questions:
- Are most tenants in the city able to access housing affordable within their income?
- Are most tenants able to access healthy housing? If not, how does unhealthy housing impact public health?
- What barriers prevent low-income tenants of the city from accessing healthy, affordable housing?
- In what ways does the experience of renting in Seattle differ by race, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or the source of income paid by tenants?
The report was co-written by WCAN’s Margaret Diddams and Xochitl Maykovich. The survey was open to participation from anyone, but the organization says it conducted “targeted outreach to neighborhood groups and groups organized around issues impacting people of color and women” in order to obtain a respondent group that reflected the demographics of low to moderate-income Seattle tenants. The report does not include which neighborhoods respondents come from, but Diddams said that many survey participants were from South Seattle.
Maykovich said that despite the small sample size, she did not think a broader study was necessary. “Cities and organizations like to study things they already know,” said Maykovich. “What the city should do is take action to solve these problems.”
“Seattle tenants face an unprecedented renting crisis” requiring government intervention, the report concludes, and makes nine policy recommendations:
- Residential developments should be required to have “a reasonable number” of units for renters with incomes of 50% and 30% AMI and below.
The city should have a one-for-one replacement policy for affordable housing units.
- Rent stabilization rules should be put in place for every rental property, and rent increases should be tied to “the cost of inflation, actual cost of building improvements, and tax increases.”
- The city should strengthen the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance by placing landlords who fail a health and safety inspection on a stricter inspection schedule and making it so that a health and safety violation of one unit triggers inspection of all units in the building.
- The city should expand the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, which protects tenants from retaliation for filing complaints, to all tenants rather than just those renting month-to-month.
- There should be a ban on discrimination against those using alternative sources of income, such as social security or rental housing assistance, to pay their rent. The report claims that people of color, people with disabilities, seniors, and women “disproportionately rely on alternative sources of income…to pay for their rent.”
- Tenant-Landlord education needs to be increased; enforcement of the ban on discrimination by landlords depends on tenant action, and many tenants are unaware of their current rights.
- There should be no bans against prospective tenants who have been charged with or convicted of a crime.
- Landlords should not be able to take into account evictions, foreclosures, or credits scores older than two years when deciding whether or not to rent to a tenant.
- Up-front move in costs should be limited, as move in costs can be prohibitively expensive to tenants whose income does allow them to pay the monthly rent.
WCAN threw its support behind Sawant’s proposed legislation to cap move-in costs for renters, but representatives said it was not enough. “The move-in costs are really a stop-gap,” said Diddams. Sawant said that she may propose more legislation once she has a chance to study the report.
WCAN representatives said the city needs to invest more money in affordable housing development, but were unsure of where the money for that investment should come from. “We didn’t look specifically into the where, so that’s a big question,” said Maykovich; she suggested housing bonds and statewide income tax as two possible locations.
“If the city is able to invest in a task force on homelessness, they can invest in a solution,” said Diadems.