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.”
BECOME A 'PAY WHAT YOU CAN' CHS SUBSCRIBER TODAY: Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment.
The statewide ban on rent control was passed in 1981.
In two letters to the City Council, the Seattle Renters’ Commission urged the body to implement rent control, pending a repeal of a statewide ban on the practice, and extend the rent increase notice period to 180 days.
The commission unanimously approved both proposals, according to co-chair Jessica Westgren.
“We have a renters’ affordability housing crisis happening in Seattle; we have way more renters than we do apartments available and affordable units are fewer and [farther] between,” Westgren said. “While we look at other options, because housing affordability comes with many different options, one of the best ways to help people out is to increase their protections.”
Westgren says she personally felt emboldened by a recent move by the Oregon Legislature to cap rent increases, the first such statewide rent control measure. The council passed a resolution in 2015 pushing the Legislature to allow local governments to implement their own rent control policies.
Sawant has previously introduced the 180-day proposal, which would force landlords to pay for relocation assistance for renters that decide to move out after landlords raise rents by 10% or more within a one-year period. The tenants would receive first and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit — roughly equal to three months worth of rent — from their landlord if their household income is under 80% area median income (AMI), under the measure.
In 2018, 80% AMI in Seattle was $56,200 for an individual and $80,250 for a family of four, according to the city’s Office of Housing.
Seattle's in the throes of a stunning affordable housing crisis, while 1 in 10 apts lies vacant. We need RENT CONTROL! Today we launched our fight for a citywide rent control ordinance – without corporate loopholes – designed to take effect the moment the statewide ban is lifted. pic.twitter.com/SadJX5lyN7
— Kshama Sawant (@cmkshama) April 15, 2019
Currently, if the rent increase is less than 10% in Seattle, landlords need only provide a 30-day notice, while if it’s above 10%, the notice period rises to 60 days. Westgren, noting that Tacoma provides 60 days across the board and other west coast counterparts like Portland and Vancouver offer 90 days, says this just isn’t enough time for a working person to find another affordable apartment.
Westgren recognizes that this proposal has a better chance of moving forward given the fact that state action is unnecessary.
Multiple legislative proposals in Olympia this year looked to extend the rent increase notice period, but not to the six-month level being pushed by the commission. A bill requiring landlords give at least 60 days written notice to tenants prior to a rent increase, with exceptions, passed both the state House and Senate and is currently pending signature from the governor.
Another change that could come from the statehouse related to landlord-tenant relationships would be extending the pay-or-vacate notice period from three to 14 days under a measure led by state Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, whose original bill included a provision for also extending the rent increase notice period to 60 days, according to a legislative analysis.
State Rep. Nicole Macri, a Democrat from Seattle who represents Capitol Hill, may be interested in removing the rent control barrier, says Westgren. Macri, who works for the homelessness services nonprofit Downtown Emergency Service Center, told CHS Monday that she isn’t sure there is a path in the Legislature for lifting the statewide ban.
A bill to repeal the ban last year received a public hearing in the state House, but failed to make it out of committee.
Sean Martin, the executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, responded to the commission’s push in a statement provided to CHS, saying that “a major driver of rental housing cost is a lack of units and space to build them.”
“Cities like San Francisco with restrictive zoning have seen rents skyrocket despite rent control,” Martin said. “Seattle recently updated some zoning rules to allow for more rental and other housing. We applaud those efforts and other comprehensive solutions that help make housing more affordable.”