20% inflation vs. a 69% rise in Seattle rents: Sawant’s rent control legislation unveiled

Between 2010 and 2018 average rent in the Seattle area rose 69% while inflation in the same region rose just over 20%.

This is a statistic that came up time and again Monday night at City Hall as Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant released a draft of her controversial rent control proposal that would tie increased rents to the rate of inflation.

“That’s unjust,” Rev. Angela Ying, senior pastor at Bethany United Church of Christ, said at a press conference before the hearing after citing the stat. “That is just plain unjust.”

The unveiling came at a council committee meeting her office has been planning for months as the incumbent’s bid for reelection has made rent control a rallying cry. No other committee members or city council members attended the Monday night special session.

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Everything you always wanted to know about Sawant’s rent control bid but were afraid to ask

Sawant’s check boxes from 2017 could add another check in 2020 — though “TAX THE RICH” needs more work

Monday night, the Seattle City Council’s Renter’s Rights Committee, chaired by District 3 representative Kshama Sawant, will discuss draft legislation for rent control at City Hall during a public hearing. It’s a cornerstone moment in the final months of her term and in her race to retain her seat in November.

Sawant’s draft legislation follows her six-year-old call for rent control, a 2015 City Council resolution supporting the repeal of a State-wide rent control ban, plus an April letter from the Seattle’s Renters’ Commission urging the council and Mayor Jenny Durkan to pass a rent control ordinance in Seattle.

In the letter, the commission’s co-chairs noted that “the unpredictability and rate of rent increases in the past decade has caused a massive burden on renters which has led to both homelessness and displacement of Seattleites.”

So, what does rent control mean to Sawant?

It’s an umbrella term that can mean different things depending on specific rules and regulations. Overall, rent control, in some cases also called rent stabilization, means limiting rent increases. This can happen in various ways: it can be tied to inflation, the cap can apply only per tenancy or beyond the duration of a tenancy, and come with or without restrictions on evictions. Some include only buildings of a certain age and exempt new buildings.

Here are a few more questions about the whole thing — and as many answers as we have heading into Monday night’s session.

What does Sawant propose? Sawant’s office remained tight-lipped about the details of the draft legislation ahead of the committee meeting on Monday. What is clear: rent increases would be tied to inflation (around 2% or 3% per year), and the legislation will be “free of corporate loopholes.”  Continue reading

Capitol Hill rally goes off without her but Sawant ready to make another push for rent control in Seattle

Rent control was the topic on everyone’s mind at All Pilgrims Christian Church in Capitol Hill Saturday night as Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant’s office and other local organizations hosted a rally to build momentum for the controversial — and currently illegal — policy.

But Sawant was nowhere to be found.

The Socialist Alternative council member who is facing a contentious reelection campaign for her District 3 seat excused herself from the event because of the threat of an ethics complaint for participating in a political rally after ballots have dropped for the August 6 primary.

Several of Sawant’s challengers for the seat criticized her in the lead-in to the rally for holding council-related events so close to the August 6th Election Day.

“Kshama is clearly using her city office to advance her political campaign by holding a city-sponsored rally and promoting it with her campaign,” entrepreneur and D3 candidate Logan Bowers said Friday, adding “Good policies and good leaders don’t need to resort to unethical tactics when they’re working in the interests of their constituents. We deserve better.”

“If Sawant is using city money to hold an election rally, I find this an egregious breach of trust and another reason why we need a change in leadership,” Broadway Business Improvement Area head Egan Orion said. Continue reading

SCC Insight: Seattle ‘a worst-case scenario for rent control to be introduced’

A view from above Capitol Hill, 2015

With reporting by SCCI Insight

Council member Kshama Sawant has decided that 2019 is the year to push for rent control in Seattle — even though there is still a statewide ban on it. She held a rally in April announcing that she would be introducing rent control legislation to become effective if and when the state lifts its ban, and she invited the Seattle Renters Commission to present in her committee (video here) on why they are recommending that the city implement rent control.

I’m not an economist, not a landlord, nor a renter. But since we’re having this debate, I went to the UW Library and pulled the literature on rent control so I could understand the issues, the studies, and what the experts conclude.  Here is what I found.
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Sawant says she will make new push on Seattle rent control, ordinance against ‘Economic Evictions’

(Image: Seattle City Council)

Building on recommendations from the Seattle Renters’ Commission, City Council member Kshama Sawant announced two measures Monday aimed would alleviate some of the burden for Seattle renters. The first is a proposal to enact a Seattle rent control ordinance. The second, the Economic Evictions Assistance Ordinance, would look to protect tenants against substantial rent increases.

“We have two choices,” Sawant said at a Monday morning press conference at City Hall to announce her planned proposals. “One, just sit on our hands and expect that some day, in the distant future, the Democratic establishment will gather the courage to break from the real estate lobby and finally stand with us. We’ve done that kind of waiting for 40 years.”

“Or we can begin the fight here.” Continue reading

Macri to introduce legislation to end state ban on rent control

Rep. Macri

One of Capitol Hill’s representatives in Olympia vowed Tuesday afternoon to rekindle the push to end Washington’s ban on rent control.

“We are passed time to bring this fight on for real,” state Rep. Nicole Macri said Tuesday as she addressed a tenant rally and protest outside the convention center where a landlord trade show was underway inside.

Macri says she will introduce legislation in the upcoming session to repeal the ban on rent regulation in the state. An announcement sent to media provided support from community and labor groups for the repeal but no details of how the rollback would work. Continue reading

Mayor’s small business affordability committee will consider commercial rent control

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Murray was joined by a handful of committee members at Hing Hay Coworks in the ID. (Image: CHS)

Mayor Ed Murray is rolling out his tried-and-true policy strategy in an effort to help small businesses weather Seattle’s affordability crisis: a 15-member committee tasked with addressing the rising cost of commercial space.

The group of business owners, developers, and property owners has been directed to “emphasize incentive-based solutions,” but Murray said he was not ruling out commercial rent control.

“Everything can be on the table,” Murray said during the Thursday announcement at Hing Hay Coworks in the International District. “I don’t believe there will be one answer.”

District 3 City Council member Kshama Sawant has been calling for regulating commercial rents since she announced her small business plan in October alongside Capitol Hill owners. City officials believe the state ban on rent control may only apply to residential properties.

Recommendations from the committee are to focus on keeping existing small businesses open and paving the way for new ones:

The group will consider a broad range of solutions to commercial affordability, including incentivizing the construction of smaller commercial spaces, further activation of public spaces to the benefit of food trucks and other small businesses, and inclusion of affordable commercial storefronts in more affordable housing projects.

The Commercial Affordability Advisory Committee includes Melrose Market and Chophouse Row developer Liz Dunn. The Capitol Hill developer has been praised for her buildings that include small spaces for small businesses — an issue Murray said the affordability committee will need to address.

“Often the spaces that are being developed are bigger than what small businesses need,” he said. Continue reading

Proposal would prohibit rent hikes on dilapidated properties — Capitol Hill building eyed

(Image: Seattle City Council)

(Image: Seattle City Council)

Wednesday at City Hall, Seattle City Council members and frequent collaborators Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant announced legislation that would prevent landlords from raising rents by 10% or more on units that have unaddressed housing code violations. While far from a broad application, the move could represent Seattle’s first step around statewide limits on rent control following a resolution to challenge the ban.

“[The legislation] will prohibit landlords from forcing any rent increase while a unit suffers from any conditions that lead to unsafe or unhealthy living conditions. The landlord must remedy such defects before implementing any rent increase,” Licata said, flanked by tenants of the Columbia City property, a representative of the Tenants Union, and Sharon Lee, the executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute.

“The city has a responsibility to make every legal avenue possible to defend tenants’ rights,” Sawant said.

Sawant also called out a Capitol Hill building as an example where, council staff tells CHS, it “appears the landlord is avoiding paying tenant relocation assistance by raising rents significantly to force tenants out, and then carrying out major renovations.” CHS is investigating the claim and will have more information on the situation soon.

The ordinance comes as a response to the controversy surrounding a Columbia City apartment complex, where rents were raised by the property’s new landlord on tenants who were living with cockroaches, mold, fault appliances, and other substandard conditions. According to the Department of Planning and Development, the property suffered from over 200 housing code violations. Continue reading

Seattle City Council takes another spin at resolution calling for end to rent control ban — UPDATE: Passed

In a surprising turn of events at City Council, president Tim Burgess introduced a resolution calling on Olympia to lift the state ban on rent control Monday afternoon. Burgess, considered to be among the most conservative council members, previously said he opposed asking the Legislature to lift the rent control ban. Burgess missed last week’s 3-3 vote on a similar resolution being carried forward by Kshama Sawant.

UPDATE 4:10 PM: The City Council passed Burgess’s resolution in an 8-1 vote with Council member John Okamoto giving the sole “no” vote. Burgess said he introduced the resolution after deciding the Council “needed a fresh start.”

“Dogmatic rhetoric blocked pragmatic steps forward,” Burgess said. “As Council President, I drafted an alternative resolution that better captures the intent expressed by most councilmembers: to request local control for local solutions.”

A stripped down statement compared to Sawant’s, Burgess’s resolution essentially asks the state to do same thing. The resolution argues municipalities should have the power to pass laws that “increase the supply of rent-restricted units and that protect tenants from sudden and dramatic rent increases, without causing a negative impact on the quality or quantity of housing supply.” Burgess ended discussion of the resolution by reiterating that it does not take a position on the actual merits of rent control.

In contrast to last week’s long and heated discussion of Sawant’s resolution, Burgess’s resolution passed with relatively little discussion.

“I don’t particularly care who carries the pen as long as the point gets across,” said Council member Nick Licata, who cosponsored the previous resolution with Sawant.

Sawant praised activists for putting pressure on elected officials and said that the city could not build its way out of its housing affordability crisis. “Why is this happening now? It is happening now because we, our movement, has brought pressure to bear,” she said.

Council member Tom Rasmussen said he didn’t support Sawant’s resolution because it made assertions about the experiences of other cities that he didn’t endorse. He also pointed out that it would likely take years for the Legislature to actually repeal the ban on rent control.

Resolutions are not binding law, they state the intent or opinion of the Council.

Earlier in the meeting, the Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the end of youth detention. Council member Mike O’Brien, who sponsored the resolution, thanked teen activists with Ending the Prison Industrial Complex for putting pressure on the City and County to address youth detention.

Original report: Burgess notified colleagues about his resolution just hours before Monday’s meeting, when rumors began circulating that he intended to put the measure to vote. Read Burgess’s proposed resolution, below:

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Council committee splits on Seattle rent control resolution

The Seattle City Council’s housing affordability committee couldn’t come to a consensus Thursday, splitting its vote 3-3 on a resolution calling on the state legislature to lift its ban on rent control.

Council member and D3 candidate Kshama Sawant and outgoing Council member Nick Licata sponsored the resolution. The Council’s Mike O’Brien joined the sponsors in voting for the resolution. They were opposed by committee chair John Okamoto and outgoing Council members Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen.

The vote followed a rambunctious public comments session with many rent control proponents and Sawant supporters booing and hissing property owners and developers who spoke against the resolution.

The resolution is being planned for a vote by the full Council on October 4th. UPDATE: In a call for supporters to “pack” City Council chambers, Sawant said a vote is “likely” during the September 21st full session.

UPDATE x2: The plot thickens…

In the meantime, the first legislation based on the mayor’s affordability goal of creating 20,000 new affordable units in the next decade is moving forward. Sawant has said that the mayor’s plan does not do enough to address the city’s growing demand for affordable housing.