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.
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Washington’s ban on rent control dates to 1980 but has even deeper set roots. In the 1930s New York, a store clerk was fined by the state for selling milk below the state-set minimum price. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court where in 1933 the court found no reason to strike down the power of states to set reasonable retail price limits. That has since been interpreted to give states and cities the constitutional grounding to enact retail price controls, like those on rents. In 1980, a Seattle group called Renters and Owners Organized for Fairness (ROOF) filed a rent control initiative with the city. It would have set up a rent control board and tied rent increases to the Consumer Price Index. The effort was ultimately unsuccessful. The following year, the Washington state legislature banned rent control. The statute prohibits cities and counties from establishing any limits on rent hikes, moving the rent control fight to Olympia.
In 2015, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution calling for the statute to be changed and arguing 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.”
Macri’s Democratic counterparts in Olympia have been less enthusiastic about the prospects for ending the ban. “I don’t think the answer to increasing the housing stock is putting artificial regulations on (property owners),” Rep. Jamie Pedersen said in 2015.
Advocates and experts heavily debated rent control and its place in addressing Seattle’s affordability crisis in the summer of 2015.
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Even if the ban were to be lifted, rent control in Seattle would face an uphill battle. “Rent control has not proven to get the benefits that we’re after,” Jenny Durkan told CHS this summer during the campaign. “It may, it sometimes provides short-term relief, but over the medium and long-term, tends to fail. So I think we have to look for more durable options than that.”
Macri acknowledged that lifting the ban will be “a huge amount of work” that will require advocates to rally support “far from Seattle and across the state of Washington.”
“One fact that I have learned in my time is that when we organize, we win,” Macri said.
Tuesday, protesters were also busy giving the attendees at the 2017 Trends Rental Housing Management Conference and Trade Show an earful and issued a “THREE (3) DAY NOTICE TO SUPPORT TENANT RIGHTS OR VACATE POLITICS.”