Rent Control is Not the Answer (Just Look at SF)

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Rent control is not the answer to Seattle’s housing crisis. But as housing demand outpaces housing supply, renters are bearing the resulting brunt of rent increases. Understandably, for renters who want to halt these rising costs, rent control sounds like an appealing idea.

Some politicians are seizing upon the heated emotions of tenants to build support for their political aspiration. Who wouldn’t like to have their rent stabilized?

But rent control is a pipe dream. It can’t happen anytime soon, if at all, and it runs counter to creating affordable, quality housing.

The lure of rent control is the argument that it would make housing more affordable and would prevent rent hikes. The only seeming downside would be a revenue loss for landlords, who are perceived as “1 percenters,” and for wealthy corporations. But according to the Rental Housing Association, around 87 percent of landlords own fewer than 10 units — of those landlords, the vast majority actually own four units or fewer. In other words, a blow to the small-sized landlord is a blow to Seattle’s economy.

In the long run, Seattle needs to tackle a much bigger issue: the lack of housing. It’s the root of the housing affordability problem and can be boiled down to this: when supply is limited, demand goes up and higher rents follow. With an increased supply, demand and rents decrease. Logically, the solution then is to increase housing supply.

This is where we should be expending our energy — creating affordable housing units, not chasing an unreachable dream that diminishes both housing supply and quality.

When rent is controlled, landlords pull in less income and have less incentive to maintain their units. Properties leave the housing market as they fall into disrepair and are abandoned. New development ceases as developers find more attractive investments outside the housing market or in other cities that offer a better return. Housing supply dwindles and can’t meet demand, leaving a city with a housing crisis worse than the one Seattle already has.

Consider cautionary tales like New York City and San Francisco. In New York City, any apartment seeker can attest to the nightmare of finding an apartment, much less an affordable apartment. The city has been combating its housing shortage for decades as a result of its rent regulations and has been trying to move away from rent control, deregulating more than 231,000 units in the last 30 years.

San Francisco is also combating a housing shortage. To make matters worse, rent regulations there don’t even help the intended population. The city’s last study from 2000 found that one-fourth of households in rent-controlled apartments earned more than $100,000 a year.

With Seattle’s fast-growing population and housing demand igniting the debate around housing affordability, proponents of rent control are pressing the City Council to take a stance on the issue. The real power, though, lies with the state Legislature.

Washington banned rent regulation in 1981. By law, cities cannot enact rent-control legislation. So, even if Seattle were in favor of the measure, the state Legislature would have to come on board.

That is a high hurdle — one that won’t be cleared.

Since moving the needle in the Legislature requires a great deal of effort, the common-sense approach is to prioritize the issues on the state legislative agenda that have both a good chance of passing in the Legislature and working in the real world.

Regardless of whether rent control is good policy (it’s not), we shouldn’t spin our wheels in the Legislature when we have several other tasks and requests that have greater momentum and higher priorities.

In any case, let’s learn from other cities that have done the legwork for us. Rent control not only fails to address the housing affordability crisis, it exacerbates the issue in the long term.


Seattle Deserves a Complete Housing Solution

Seattle is the fastest growing big city in the U.S., and Seattle’s infrastructure is bursting at the seams. Skyrocketing housing prices are squeezing low-income Seattleites — often people of color, immigrants, and refugees — out of Seattle.

Efforts to improve the problem have been under way for some time.  For example, subsidies help low-income renters pay for housing.  A housing levy helps housing providers build, maintain, or manage affordable housing units.  Tax incentives give developers a break, and incentive zoning allows them to build taller buildings in exchange for adding more affordable housing units to the city.

But we need more affordable housing at a faster rate than we are seeing. In fact, Seattle needs to produce 28,000 affordable units in the next 20 years. Right now, “affordable” means rent lower than $1,200 for a one-bedroom unit.

The lack of affordable housing is a complex problem tied to wages, transportation, health, and social justice.   I just heard a story of a woman who grew up in Rainier Valley but could only find affordable housing in south King County.  She works in downtown Seattle.  Despite her employer’s generous free transit pass she still spends hours on her commute because she cannot find affordable housing near her work.

The issue isn’t piecemeal, so the solution can’t be piecemeal, either.  All of the moving parts of affordable housing – parts like tenant protection, housing preservation and development, tenant stability – are linked, and one or two quick fixes are not enough to undertake an issue of such magnitude and complexity.

That’s why the Mayor brought together an advisory committee to develop an agenda for housing and livability.  The committee comprises people from all sides of the table – developers, tenants, landlords, employers, philanthropy – and the committee has participated in a thorough process to tackle every piece of the housing puzzle.

The agenda will come to the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resilience next month.  As Chair of the committee – and a long-time Seattle resident – I look forward to seeing a complete solution that is sustainable and legally sound.  It is at that time that we can assess the impact and implications of their recommendations and any other proposals to address this daunting challenge.


Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda

This month Mayor Murray and members of City Council launched work on a new Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. The Mayor and Council have called together leaders in our community to help develop a bold agenda for increasing the affordability and availability of housing in our city. The agenda will chart a course for the next 10 years to ensure the development and preservation of a diversity of housing for people across the income spectrum. The Housing Affordability & Livability Advisory Committee will review every piece of the housing puzzle, including innovative ideas to pilot new types of housing, accessory dwelling unit regulations, new efforts to preserve existing affordable housing, opportunities to stretch our valuable Housing Levy dollars, and more.

The twenty-eight member stakeholder advisory committee is co-chaired by Faith Li Pettis of Pacifica Law Group and philanthropic-sector leader David Wertheimer, and includes renters and homeowners, for-profit and non-profit developers, and other local housing experts. The committee is charged with delivering a set of recommendations to the Mayor and Council by May 29, 2015.

The agenda will be guided by the following goals and values:

  • Strengthen our city through housing affordability
  • Ensure equal access to housing to advance social and racial justice
  • Promote the livability of Seattle’s neighborhoods
  • Promote housing opportunity across Seattle
  • Promote equitable growth
  • Continue our commitment to prioritizing those most in need
  • Embrace innovation and build upon current, proven programs and policies

There are many opportunities for public participation in the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. Opportunities include several public meetings to be held throughout the city in November and December. In addition, there will be online forums for public comments, a resource-rich webpage with updates on the committee’s progress, and periodic updates to the City Council with opportunities for public comment. The process will also include several topic-specific working groups that will involve a broad range of community members in addition to members of the committee.

Read the Mayor’s press release about the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.

The Mayor’s webpage will soon include information and resources about the agenda, including the upcoming public meetings.

Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Announced

Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Announced

 SEATTLE The City Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services and Economic Resiliency approved a resolution today calling for the development of a Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda for Seattle. The Agenda will create a comprehensive housing plan for Seattle by identifying housing needs over the next ten years and recommending new policies or programs to meet any gaps.

“We have to intentionally plan to achieve housing affordability for a diverse mix of incomes and families in our city,” said Councilmember Sally J. Clark, the legislation’s sponsor and chair of the committee.  “For the first time, we’ll have a comprehensive catch-all plan for how we’d like to see housing serve the entire spectrum of people in Seattle.”

The Agenda will be developed in the City’s Office of Housing and Office for Policy and Innovation, aided by a stakeholder advisory group.  Staff will utilize recent council reports and research, best practices from cities around the nation and conduct a thorough review of existing policies and programs from across City departments. The plan is expected to be presented back to the Mayor and City Council by the end of May, 2015 for further community engagement, review and adoption.

“We need more housing options so that people who work in this city can afford to live in this city,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “I believe this plan will help us get in front of the growing pressure on affordability and help us provide more opportunities to live in Seattle for more people.”

Seattle currently faces many challenges relating to housing affordability and access.  Currently, 43% of Seattle renter households are burdened by housing costs and 21% are severely burdened, which means more than one- half of household income goes toward rent.  Preliminary data also suggests Seattle will have a growing gap in family-sized housing.  According to a recent study, enrollment in Seattle Public Schools’ kindergartens began increasing rapidly in the last decade. Enrollment is projected to be nearly 60,000 by the year 2020.

“Preserving affordable housing is particularly important in this housing climate when subsidized housing like the Theodora is being converted to market rate housing, not to mention the cycle of demolition, redevelopment and increased rent in market rate rentals, and finally the likely future upswing in condo conversions,” said Councilmember Nick Licata.

“Working together as a city, we can seize our destiny as a city that increases affordable housing across the economic spectrum – for homeless housing to workforce housing,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “By hearing from renters and homeowners, and representatives from the financial sector, for-profit developers, non-profit developers, and other local housing experts, we can develop a housing agenda that will make a powerful and lasting impact on the current and future affordability of our city.”

The resolution was developed collaboratively with community members, Mayor Ed Murray, Councilmember Sally J. Clark, Councilmember Mike O’Brien and Councilmember Nick Licata.  Full Council is scheduled to vote on the resolution on Monday, September 22.

Sawant to Host Public Hearing on Energy Rate Hikes – Invites the Public to Comment on City Light Proposal

Sawant to Host Public Hearing on Energy Rate Hikes

Invites the Public to Comment on City Light Proposal


SeattleCouncilmember Kshama Sawantwill host a public hearing of the Energy Committee regarding the proposed electricity rate increases in the city. According to the City Light Strategic Plan, the estimated average increase is 4.4% for consumers each of the next six years. For working people, this comes on top of the burdens of the economic recession, rising rents, increased gas and food expenses, cuts to basic health and transportation, and other utility rate increases.

Sawant, who serves as Chair of the Council’s Energy Committee, will focus her comments on the inequities of Seattle’s current energy rates. The biggest corporations are enjoying record profits with historically low taxes, yet pay far less for electricity than residential customers. Based on the average energy rates per kilowatt hour (kWh) for users in 2013, a residential customer is charged $67.28 to operate an 800 kWh per year refrigerator for one year; by comparison, a corporation is charged $43.67 to operate the same appliance. Members of the public are urged to come speak on this important issue.



Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Chair, Energy Committee

Councilmember Sally J. Clark

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw

Councilmember Mike O’Brien




Public Hearing of the Council Energy Committee to discuss electricity rate increases



Thursday, September 11 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.



Yesler Community Center – 917 E Yesler Way, Seattle, WA 98122


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