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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.

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

Murray was hesitant to discuss solutions he wanted to see implemented, but said zoning and permitting reforms could be part of the equation. The committee will consider affordability concerns for all commercial uses, including retail, restaurant, industrial, office, and arts and culture.

City officials did not have any data on hand Thursday to show how much Seattle rents have risen for commercial spaces in recent years.

As the $15 minimum wage debate proved, determining what constitutes a small business will be no simple task. Brian Surratt, director of the Office of Economic Development, said there was no hard line going into the process. The committee will submit its recommendations to the Mayor in September.

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YouMightBeRight
YouMightBeRight
4 years ago

Okay, so what Kshama Sawant is proposing is to limit the rents that can be charged on commercial spaces. Sounds great. Except for the person who might own that space. There’s that messy reality of property taxes and other costs like insurance going up every year as the property value increases. The two lines of overhead and profit are on a collision course. The city can potentially limit profit, but they can’t limit costs. Not a good idea in my estimation.

Timmy73
Timmy73
4 years ago

Yes, the only way this works is if you freeze other landlord expenses so they are able to remain in the business of being a landlord. Otherwise they are squeezed out.

Then you have other business subsidizing those deferred costs or the city picks up the tab and then we’re all paying for it whether we use that business or not.

le.gai.savant
le.gai.savant
4 years ago

Will this mean that our local McDonalds, 7-11, Denny’s etc will be protected? Or would they not be covered somehow? What about our local la-di-dah boutique? Or Starbucks? We’ll need some fancy legal draftsmanship if Sawant is going to protect deserving “small businesses” without becoming best friend of the chain store!

Then again, what about a local small biz that pays less compared to some big chain that pays more (think, combo of wages, benefits and other perks)? (Example, Starbucks vs. some small coffee houses.) Will Sawant and friends protect businesses based on size or how well the business treats its workers?

Oh, and how is a new business going to compete with one that’s been here a few years benefiting below-market rent control costs? Is the policy, new businesses go elsewhere? Competition between businesses, who cares about that?

Sawant herself has recognized that rent control arbitrarily favors older occupants at the expense of new arrivals, and has talked about a more general rent control, you know, the city sets rent . While we’re at it, maybe the city will decide what business goes in what location. And who should own the business. Check the “socialist alternative party” web page if this seems farfetched to you!

James
James
4 years ago

Mayor Murray should be ashamed of himself. How could he stoop so low as to give Sawant the time of day. This weakness in the face of useless nagging whiners like Sawant is pathetic. I will not be voting for such a weak mayor again.

And please everyone, maybe if we just ignore Sawamt and treat her like the naive idiotic child that she is she will go away. Or we could throw this city down the drain by letting her selfish, hateful, radical followers and their socialist cult ruin our economy and society.

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
4 years ago
Reply to  James

“…maybe if we just ignore Sawamt and treat her like the naive idiotic child that she is she will go away.”

In case you hadn’t noticed, people actually fell for this shit and re-elected her. She’s just giving the voters what she promised. I’m pretty sure most of her supporters still believe her.

matt
matt
4 years ago

companies before people, just a different level

TheyMightBeRight
TheyMightBeRight
4 years ago
Reply to  matt

Not all commercial spaces are owned by corporations. Mine for instance. I purchased a small commercial space 20 years ago to house my small business. With the plan of having this eventually provide some retirement income. Now I’ve leased it out as I transition my work life. So now if the city goes ahead with rent control, I will have to pay the rising overhead costs, but won’t be able to keep pace as the rent I can charge will be limited. How is this fair?

matt
matt
4 years ago
Reply to  matt

I’m not saying it’s fair. I’ll never defend rent control. I just find amazing that the council is more worried about keeping rents artificially low for business than doing the same for homes.

If we could just remove zoning…

Glenngw
Glenngw
4 years ago

I have to believe this is an attempt to co-opt tge commercial rent control agenda and offer more reasonable solutions to assist small businesses. Such solutions might include, subsudized rents, development incentives to developors for small retail spaces, etc. I supportany proposal that is paid for by the majority of city residents rather than foisting the cost of supporting small businesses on a narrow population, that being commercial landlords.

matt
matt
4 years ago
Reply to  Glenngw

what about my own subsidy? developers are just another business.

ERF
ERF
4 years ago

Out of the many comments I have made out loud while reading this article and the comments following, I’ll post this;
So the property owner and landlord are not a small business in some cases too? The socialistic policies being put in place seem to have accelerated the last few mayors.

MichelleX
MichelleX
4 years ago

Rent Control to help small business? How about lowering B&O taxes and all of the other costs that Federal, State, and City government imposes on small business owners? While we are at it let’s have government dictate to insurance companies how much premiums cost for small business. Oh and let’s not forget the $15 minimum wage. Many small business owners publicly support it only because they are afraid of Sawant operatives tactics such as publishing where they live and how much King County says their house is worth to shame them into supporting $15.

James
James
4 years ago
Reply to  MichelleX

Lets fight fire with fire…every time a Sawant radicalist shops at a non fair-trade, non-union, non-whatever business, we should publicly shame them and post pictures of them on public forums. Each Sawant clique-member is barred from shopping at any business with more than 2 locations.

And lets not forget that a lot of Sawant voters don’t even pay taxes as they tend to be unemployed, underemployed, lazy, or frauds. so of course they don’t understand that taxes actually do cost SOMEBODY money in the end.

Soho
Soho
4 years ago

I. Hate. This. Proposal.

Greg M
Greg M
4 years ago

Great, so developers will have an incentive to only make available huge spaces that can only be filled by big retail brands, which would be exempt from this great new regulation. Can’t wait for the Target and Gap on capitol hill

matt
matt
4 years ago
Reply to  Greg M

Just like we did for housing!!