On Thursday at a City Hall event (you're invited!) to discuss Seattle's housing challenges, Council Members Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata will unveil a proposed resolution that puts the city on record as opposing the state's ban on regulating rents—i.e., rent control or rent stabilization.
The current draft of the resolution describes the ban on rent control, enacted way back in 1981, as "an impediment to fair housing in the City of Seattle," citing studies that show the city's fast-rising rents are disproportionately displacing people of color.
"We think it's absurd," said Licata staffer Lisa Herbold, "that we're preempted from considering this at the city level."
"Prohibiting excessive rent increases for seniors during the winter months? Can't do that," she explained. "Preventing rent increases on housing with severe housing code violations? Can't do that. Because the law talks vaguely about ordinances or provisions that regulate the amount of rent. That's really broad."
Herbold stressed that Licata hasn't come to a conclusion about whether rent control is right for Seattle, but wants the city to be able to contemplate it.
Sawant, the council's lone socialist, sees the resolution as also a way to get her capitalist colleagues on record about rent control.
"Because that state ban exists, it provides a cop-out for corporate politicians in this city to pass the buck," Sawant said. "They can say, 'Well it's not legal.' In my view, that's not political leadership. Imagine if grassroots activists said, 'Oh, gay marriage is illegal,' so no one fought for it. So this is to take that excuse away for elected officials."
Repealing the ban on regulating rents has been on the city's lobbying agenda at the state level for years—to no avail. During the current legislative session, a proposal by Seattle-area representatives to close loopholes and give renters more advance notice of evictions went nowhere. "Our attempts in the state legislature to address rent increases that violate our existing laws," Herbold said, "like the tenant relocation assistance ordinance, have been opposed by the landlord lobby. So we have no other option but to bring the conversation home."
The resolution, if passed, would give greater ammunition to state house speaker Frank Chopp, who told the Seattle Weekly last year he favors removing the ban on rent control, while questioning whether the City of Seattle would take advantage of the newfound authority. Mayor Ed Murray and outgoing city council member Sally Clark both said they opposed rent control.
If you're curious to learn more or want to weigh in, the event on Thursday is at 6 p.m. at council chambers in City Hall. Sawant has invited the eight finalists in the running to fill Sally Clark's seat to attend and outline their positions, too.
Sawant likened the arguments against rent control to those made against raising the minimum wage. "There wasn't any shortage of the arguments that it would destroy Seattle. You'll hear the same arguments again," she predicted.