Seattle town hall will spark debate about rent control

Josh Green reports

SEATTLE – A town hall meeting Thursday at City Hall will likely be a catalyst for debate over whether or not rent control would work in Seattle.

"We are going to be presenting a resolution that demands Olympia repeal the ban on rent control," Councilwoman Kshama Sawant said Tuesday. "It's necessary for people to build a mass movement, just like we did for $15 an hour, to make sure that the elected officials respond."

The state statute which bans rent control has been in place since the 1980s.

The town hall that council members Sawant and Nick Licata are hosting is geared to those like Barbara Brownstein. The 67-year-old social worker has lived in her Ballard apartment for about five years now but will leave this summer because of another rent hike.

"I'm looking further away and I shouldn't have to leave the city," she said. "Being of, technically retirement age, I was thinking, 'OK. I'm going to have to apply for social security and still work full-time in order to pay for this hike.' That's crazy. I'm sorry. That's crazy."

Brownstein said her rent has essentially doubled within the last two years to $1,695 for the next lease.

Her neighbor, Sara Stapleton, said she's moving too.

"I chose this place because I thought it'd be a great place to have a kid," Stapleton said.

She is an instructor at a community college and is having a baby next month. But with a $700 increase in rent, she said she'll find a new place months after her girl is born, downsizing or seeking help from family.

"I'd be moving probably well out of Seattle and commuting for over an hour a day to be able to afford a decent place for me and a baby," Stapleton said. "I don't want to move every year as the rent kind of chases you further and further away from the city."

There's no debate rents are skyrocketing in Seattle but the question of how or if new city legislation should address it through rent control will be a hot button issue.

The National Multifamily Housing Council, a trade association representing apartment owners, managers, developers, lenders and service providers, argues that studies show rent control causes harm. In one piece, Vice President of Housing Policy Lisa Blackwell argues it can inhibit new construction, can lead to a drop in the quality and quantity of existing rental stock and can reduce property tax revenues.

"When a community artificially restrains rents by adopting rent control, it sends the market what may be a false message," Blackwell writes. "It tells builders not to make new investments and it tells current providers to reduce their investments in existing housing. Under such circumstances, rent control has the perverse consequence of reducing, rather than expanding, the supply of housing in time of shortage."

Councilwoman Sawant said she expects opposition.

"Every time we talk about progressive legislation whether it's marriage equality, whether it's an increase in the minimum wage for the lowest paid workers or housing justice – we know that corporations and big business will come out in opposition," she said. "We want to build a movement around housing justice but specifically around rent control."

The town hall meeting is Thursday, April 23, 6:00 PM at City Hall, Council Chambers, 600 Fourth Ave, Floor 2.

Kshama Sawant Affordable Housing Town Hall 4.23.15 Poster


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