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Seattle tenant protection bills introduced as renter rights issues gain ground

District 3 isn’t the only City Council race where candidates are trying to prove their mettle on affordable housing. City Council president Tim Burgess has introduced two tenant protection bills: one to extend the notice landlords must give for certain evictions, and another to require owners of some affordable housing buildings to notify the city before selling their properties.

The move comes as Burgess’s top challenger in the citywide Council Position 8 race — former Tenant’s Union director Jon Grant — has gained ground heading towards the August 4th primary.

Grant’s strong showing in the 43rd District Democrats endorsement event has put him in a runoff vote with Burgess next month. Grant has also picked up endorsements from the 46th District Democrats and the 32nd District Democrats.

Burgess’s first proposal would require landlords to give 90 days notice when they plan to move into the unit or move in an immediate family member. Currently, landlords only have to give 20 days notice for such evictions. The legislation would also require landlords intending to sell a rental unit to give renters 90 days notice instead of 60 days notice.

The second bill would mandate that landlords notify the city when they intend to sell any multi-family rental housing building with five or more units, where at least one unit is affordable to households at or below 80% of area median income. The notification would, in theory, give the city’s Office of Housing and the Seattle Housing Authority time to consider purchasing the units. There’s no requirement that the property owner sell to the city should it make an offer.

In 98102, an affordable rent for a household making 80% of the area’s median income would’ve been roughly $1,445 a month in 2013 (assuming 30% of income spent on housing is affordable).

“The growing lack of affordable housing poses a direct challenge to our vision of an equitable city,” Burgess said in a statement.

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 9.26.22 PMAnd it’s not just in Seattle. A recent study found that average rents nationwide have gone up 5% for the third straight month, leading to the biggest growth in rents in nearly four years. Meanwhile, in a sample of recent Capitol Hill listings, the median monthly lease for a one-bedroom apartment was nearly $1,800, up $100 from a similar sampling method last month. Rent for studios are, on average, listing for about $200 more as well.

Having notice of a sale is one thing, but purchasing and maintaining property is quite another. The Seattle Housing Authority rarely purchases privately held housing because it doesn’t have the resources to do it. The purchase of The Ritz at 13th and Yesler was one example from 2003. However, projects like Yesler Terrace, where the agency actually sells property to private developers to fund affordable housing, is a much more common model.

“We’re not likely to have the resources to act on these properties,” said SHA communications director Kerry Coughlin.

That’s why Grant says the notice is a good first step, but wants to add a “right of first refusal”for the city and a beefed up Office of Housing to actually purchase properties using the city’s bonding authority in order to sell them to SHA and other non-profits. “(Burgess) is just trying to score a political point … he’s just doing the bare minimum,” Grant said.

The legislation introduced by Burgess, originally proposed by former City Council member Sally Clark, is not part of the work being done by Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory committee which Grant sits on. A City Council staffer said the bills would likely work in tandem with the committee’s recommendations. If Grant has his way, that would include the beefed up Office of Housing.

Also in the works is a City Council effort to start looking at implementing “linkage fees” on new construction in order to build more affordable housing in the city. That could provide another source of funding for the city to start buying private property on the market.

In March, Murray called on the committee to develop policies that would create or preserve 50,000 new housing units in the city over the next decade, 20,000 of which would be income restricted.

In the coming years, more than 100 affordable housing units will be built in the heart of Capitol Hill as part of the Capitol Hill Station housing and retail project. Developer Gerding Edlen, which recently held a community open house to show off its early design plans, is in the process of selecting a nonprofit housing organization to develop and manage the affordable housing site.

Despite Grant’s recent endorsements, Burgess is still massively out-fundraising him and just about every other council candidate. As of Monday, Burgess has raised $147,244 in campaign contributions, dwarfing Grant’s $27,546. Indie rocker John Roderick has raised $55,585 in the race, as longshoreman John Persak is staying competitive with $23,335 raised so far.

Roderick has teamed up with citywide Position 9 candidate Alon Bassok in a kind of transit-oriented ticket to propose a citywide rail system to complement Sound Transit’s regional approach. Here’s what the Seattle Times had to say about the proposal:

John Roderick and Alon Bassok say the Seattle-only system would connect the city’s neighborhoods to each other and complement the regional light-rail system that Sound Transit began building more than a decade ago.

Their three-page plan released Wednesday doesn’t say exactly how much a neighborhood-rail plan would cost. It says that property owners would foot the bill for the system’s construction by way of a 30-year property-tax bond like the one currently being used to finance a replacement seawall along Seattle’s historic downtown waterfront.

Grant is officially kicking off his campaign June 18th alongside Jimmy McMillan II, who coined perhaps the most well known campaign slogan dealing with affordability during the 2013 New York City mayoral race when he ran as a member of the “Rent is too Damn High” party.

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5 years ago

Burgess’s proposal regarding the sale of an apartment building sounds good in theory, but it has no teeth unless money is available for the City to buy properties, and this is not the case. In a time of tight budgets, where would the money come from? Is yet another property tax assessment in our future?

5 years ago

Seems more symbolic than anything, without substance — does nothing to control skyrocketing Seattle rents. If anything, it give’s those that introduced the bills the opportunity to say ‘at least we tried’… :-(

5 years ago

Cost of housing in relation to income for MOST people is becoming a world wide crisis. Even a couple of my more conservative friends commented recently that treating housing as a free market commodity probably isn’t going to work in the long term.