Applause followed the City Council’s unanimous approval of an ordinance creating a Seattle Renters’ Commission on Monday.
“This was truly a grassroots effort that started up on Capitol Hill and will now benefit the entire city of Seattle,” Council member and prime sponsor Tim Burgess said.
“We just want to give renters a formal voice here at City Hall,” he said. “… Renters need landlords and landlords need renters, so if this commission can help bridge that relationship then that will be a positive move for our city.”
Zachary DeWolf of the Capitol Hill Community Council has been a leader in the push for the creation of the commission.
“After 91 years of the same old, tired, harmful, and unjust argument treating us renters as second to homeowners, today’s vote and hopeful victory fully affirms your life, our lives as renters and our voice matters,” DeWolf said. “Today is a big win for equity and inclusion, and I continue to be proud to live in this great city.”
About 54% of households in the city are occupied by renters, Burgess said, and the commission will provide them with a way to advise the mayor and council about not only renter protection laws but also topics like transportation, public health and safety, parks and open space and education.
“In my district (5) alone we now have 49% renters and 51% homeowners, and I believe that those people should have a voice,” bill co-sponsor Debora Juarez said. “It’s important that renters are recognized and are engaged in the city process and certainly in the decisions.”
Michael Bracy and Alex Brennan both of the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative testified in favor of the ordinance to create the commission.
Bracy has lived and rented in Seattle for almost 18 years, and his rent has nearly tripled since he first moved to Capitol Hill.
“Issues around rental properties and the concerns of their inhabitants inform and affect many of the greatest challenges in front of the council,” Bracy said. “… Renters in Seattle are first-hand witnesses to and participants in the day-to-day struggles and triumphs that make our city unique.”
Brennan said the Renters’ Commission can help to increase renters involvement.
“At a time when so many renters are struggling to afford to live in Seattle, this is a critical step toward a more inclusive future,” Brennan said.
Part of the commission’s work will be to provide feedback on bills before the council and those already on the books like the Source of Income Discrimination and Move In Fees legislation, Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, Rental Housing Registration and Inspection Program, the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance, the Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance, and the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.
The 15-member commission will have six mayor-appointed members, six council-appointed members, two commission-appointed members, and one young adult member from the YMCA’s Get Engaged Program. The ordinance calls varied representation to include “historically underrepresented groups such as low-income renters, LGBTQ renters, immigrant renters, renters with felony records, those paying rent with assistance, and renters who have experienced homelessness.” The ordinance also requests effort be made to include members representing different geographic areas.
The Department of Neighborhoods will staff the commission.
The application and appointment process is expected to take place from April through Mayr or June with the first commission meeting early this summer.
SEPA threshold legislation
Now that the council has approved a Renters’ Commission, its next housing-related legislation under consideration aims to increase the number of units that trigger an environmental review, which would speed up the development of smaller developments.
In 2008 the number of units in urban centers and station areas was 30, Downtown was 80 and commercial was 12,000 square feet. In 2012 it was increased to 200 units in urban centers and station areas, 250 in Downtown, and 30,000 square feet for commercial space. Those numbers dropped in 2015, now the council is considering a proposal to bring the numbers back up to 2012 levels.
According to a presentation set to be discussed Tuesday in front of the Planning Land Use and Zoning committee, benefits include reduced costs, less time spent on permit review, increased predictability with fewer risks such as an appeal, and resources can be used to review other permits.
The committee Tuesday morning is also discussing the final touches for planned upzoning in downtown and South Lake Union that is expected to “sail through” the council.