The much-talked-about resolution from Seattle City Council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant made its first formal appearance in City Hall today with a short discussion at the council's morning briefing. (You can read it here.)
A city resolution can't actually enact rent control—resolutions are nonbinding; rent control is a state law—but, as Ansel wrote about here, Licata and Sawant want the city on the record opposing the state ban in order to start a discussion about actually repealing that ban.
"Because that state ban exists, it provides a cop-out for corporate politicians in this city to pass the buck," Sawant told The Stranger in April. "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."
This has started a fight about rent control itself. Read developer lobbyist Roger Valdez's case against rent control here and listen to a debate between Valdez and tenants' rights activist and city council candidate Jon Grant here. Watch Licata and Sawant speak in favor of rent control (in front of 500-plus people in council chambers) right here.
We didn't get a good sense at today's meeting of where all the council members stand on the policy question itself. (The Stranger has asked them all, but we haven't heard back. Before getting a full council vote, the resolution will go to the housing affordability committee, which is chaired by Council Member John Okamoto. I've asked his office when it'll be on the agenda and they haven't yet responded.)
But today did expose the more subtle back-and-forth between council members about how realistic a change in state law actually is. Council Member Tom Rasmussen all but rolled his eyes at the idea.
"As you pointed out," Rasmussen said to Licata, "the state has preempted the city, so when do you think—should they respond positively—when would the first time be that the legislature could take action on this and the governor could sign it?"
"Well, that's a practical question," Licata said, before Rasmussen interjected, smiling, "It's an important question."
In Olympia, the legislature is now in its second special session trying to craft a budget. Once that happens, they're unlikely to take up new legislation until next year. And even then, rent control will be a heavy lift. Licata said the resolution could help start the conversation between the city and state lawmakers, even between sessions, and Sawant echoed that, saying it would help build "political momentum around it."
"This is the state legislature that convened an emergency session for Boeing's $9 billion," Sawant said. "So maybe we can generate the momentum to have them have an emergency session on repealing the ban on rent control. You never know. It might happen."
To that, Rasmussen's argument-by-question got even more obvious: "And work can occur with the legislature or legislators individually whether or not a resolution passes, right?" he wondered, before explaining that yes, duh, the city talks to state lawmakers about stuff even when the council hasn't passed a resolution about it.
"Certainly there's no gag order on council members talking about this with state legislators," Licata said. "While we could have those conversations and in fact they have occurred in the past, they come back to us and say, 'You are the representatives of this population. Shouldn't you be doing something officially to, basically, make a request of us?' So that's where it's coming from."
Council Member Bruce Harrell gave little indication about where he stands on rent control (he did say, "I like cities having jurisdiction over their housing stock"), but went all in on telling the state to GTFO.
"As the state continues to look at cities more and more to fix their own problems," Harrell said, "getting out from under state preemption I think will continue to be good policy."
This post has been updated.