Next week, on Thursday, 4/23, at 6:00 pm in City Council Chambers, Councilmember Kshama Sawant and I are co-hosting a Town Hall to discuss the impacts of rising rents on Seattle residents and what we can do about it. I hope that you can join us. Sponsoring organizations include the Community Housing Caucus, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, 15 Now, IBEW Local 6, the Low Income Housing Institute, Nickelsville, Puget Sound Association for Retirement Action, Puget Sound Sage, Real Change, SAFE, SHARE, the Sawhorse Revolution, the Seattle Displacement Coalition, the Seattle Transit Riders’ Union, the Socialist Alternative, the Stranger, Teamsters Local 117, the Tenants Union, and Washington CAN.
In 2012 and 2013 we had the highest rent increases of any major U.S. city and we are now among the nation’s ten most expensive cities. More than 47% of Seattle rental households are now considered rent-burdened because they are paying more than 30% of their incomes for rent and utilities. A recent study found a connection between increases in rent and increases in homelessness, specifically a 15% increase in homelessness per $100 increase in rent in cities. We know that high rents make it hard for lower-income households to remain in the city because a City 2008 analysis of impediments to fair housing in Seattle found that families who cannot afford rental housing in Seattle are more likely to leave the city. This study found these conditions to be an impediment to fair housing in Seattle and “reduced housing choice for protected classes, who are disproportionately low-income and racial minorities.”
As you very likely know, our State Law, RCW 35.21.830 prohibits us from passing “ordinances or other provisions which regulate the amount of rent.” Several other U.S. cities, including some of the country’s largest cities, have preserved affordability and mitigated the fair housing impacts of rent increases in different ways. Including some laws that you wouldn’t think as “rent control.” Unfortunately, because of this State Law, we cannot. For the last two legislative sessions, in 2014 and again in 2015, with the help of Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Representative Jessyn Farrell, I have tried to get State legislation passed that would at least allow for more notice when tenants get large rent increases that displace them through an “economic eviction.” Those reasonable and fair efforts, supported by the Seattle Times, were vigorously opposed by the rental housing industry. So our efforts to get a fix in the State Legislature leave us little option but to ask, what can we do here in Seattle to address this issue, and how would we go about it?
For this reason, Councilmember Sawant and I will be introducing a resolution to support repeal of RCW 35.21.830 so that we can begin a discussion in Seattle about how to best mitigate the effects of high and increasing rental housing costs, including the disproportionate displacement of people of color. I hope that you can join me and Councilmember Sawant next week to both discuss this topic as well as innovative ideas to encourage new public investment in affordable housing.