The proposed Seattle Renters’ Commission made its debut in the City Council’s Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee meeting last week. Early signs indicate good support for the proposed 15-member commission that aims to give renters in the city a voice on not only tenant rights and affordability but also related issues like transportation access and economic development.
“There’s a lot of issues that touch renters and they’re not often at the table,” said Sera Day, legislative assistant to council member Tim Burgess, prime sponsor of the ordinance.
“As rents continue rising, it’s critical that renters are given space to engage city government with a strong and organized voice,” Capitol Hill Community Council president Zachary DeWolf said Friday. “… This ordinance will create a platform for renters to get engaged in civic life and fully invest in their neighborhoods and ultimately our city of Seattle.”
Sierra Hansen, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in support of the commission.
“I think that this is an amazing effort among Capitol Hill residents that will benefit folks across Seattle,” Hansen said.
The neighborhood’s EcoDistrict launched the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative, which aims to keep the Hill affordable and livable, Capitol Hill Housing’s Joel Sisolak told council members.
“The renters we work with … are engaged, motivated, committed advocates for all things that make neighborhoods great — affordability, mobility, open space, healthy retail, cultural vitality,” Sisolak said. “And our neighborhood is better for their efforts. We expect that a renter commission would provide some of the same great benefits at the municipal scale that the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative is providing on Capitol Hill.”
Part of the commission’s work will be to provide feedback on legislation 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.
Rising rents are pushing residents out of the city, and that’s unacceptable,” Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien representing Northwest Seattle’s District 6 said. “Low-income renters are nearly twice as likely as homeowners to be displaced by gentrification. I believe that the Seattle Renters’ Commission will bring much needed perspective to our policy work about how we can grow equitably and inclusively.”
One landlord spoke against the Renters’ Commission ordinance as drafted. She suggested a commission made up of both renters and landlords.
“This commission seeks to engage a group of citizens who make up a majority of the city but require additional engagement and really thoughtful outreach to have their voices be heard,” Day said.
The offices of Burgess, O’Brien, and Lisa Herbold drafted the proposal that comes as Seattle residents continue to face one of the most expensive rental markets… in the world.
Day noted wide gaps between homeowners and renters, including that the median household income of renters in Seattle is less than 50% of homeowners and that 53% of white residents own homes while 29% of black Seattleites and 27% of Latino residents own their homes.
The ordinance calls for the commission to be made up of six council-appointed members, six mayoral-appointed members, two commission-appointed members and one member through Get Engaged, Seattle, which is a program from the city and the Accelerator YMCA that places 18 to 29 year olds on boards and commissions.
“The renter population includes a lot of people of color, it includes people living with disabilities, we have low-income renters, LGBTQ people, seniors, students, those paying rent with assistance, we have folks with felony records,” Day said. “So we have a big diverse group of folks that this commission is seeking to give a voice to.”
Herbold said the Seattle Human Rights Commission has requested that people who have or are experiencing homelessness be included in the commission makeup. The Washington Multi-Family Housing Association also requested that both commissioners connected to renter-related organizations and “free-flowing, unaffiliated” renters be considered for positions.
The bill is aimed at residential renters. Council member Rob Johnson suggested more flexibility be considered so that commercial renters may be included.
The apostrophe in the name “Renters’ Commission” also got a shoutout on Friday, so that dire issue could get further discussion on March 15.
Also: If you just called it the Seattle Renter Commission you could dispatch with all this Seattle Renters' Commission apostrophe silliness
— jseattle (@jseattle) March 3, 2017
The ordinance to create the commission staffed by the Department of Neighborhoods will next be discussed by the same committee on March 15 and is expected to be followed by a full council vote, possibly on March 20th. If the commission is approved, the application and appointment process is anticipated to take place from April through June with the first commission meeting in July.