After a split vote in a city council committee last week, a rent control resolution sponsored by Council Members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant looked headed for defeat. Now, a stripped down version may have a shot.
Even more interesting is who's bringing it forward: Council President Tim Burgess, who wasn't at last week's vote but has said he opposes asking the state to lift its ban on rent control.
Even weirder, rumors are circulating in council offices that Burgess will introduce the resolution to the council's calendar today and then either he or another council member will ask to have a full council vote on the resolution today. That means the full council could vote today on a rent control resolution that's not even on its calendar yet. That's despite the expectation that the Sawant and Licata resolution would come up on October 5. (Sawant and others are organizing a rally supporting rent control for that day).
If a vote isn't called today, Burgess as council president is the one who would decide when his resolution would get a full council vote. Licata and Sawant both say they've heard the resolution is likely to get a vote today, though they wouldn't specify from whom. Burgess's office says he isn't planning to ask for a vote today (any other council member still could). His office couldn't provide a date when the resolution would get a vote, if not today.
Burgess's resolution is sparse in comparison to the one introduced by Sawant and Licata with none of the clauses advocating for rent control as a policy. To refresh from last week: While Sawant and Licata pitched lifting the ban as a way for the city to simply have a conversation about rent control, they were also advocating for the policy itself. Some other council members (most vocally, Tom Rasmussen) said they may be open to the conversation but were not convinced about the merit of the policy itself, so they couldn't get behind the language actually supporting rent control.
But the meat of Burgess's resolution—asking the state legislature to "repeal or modify" the ban—essentially asks for the same thing.
The council, Burgess's resolution says, supports state efforts to "protect tenants from sudden and dramatic rent increases, without causing a negative impact on the quality or quantity of housing supply, by modifying or repealing [the state's ban on rent control]."
The Licata/Sawant resolution reads: "The State of Washington should repeal or modify [the rent control ban] so as not to remain a barrier to fair housing in Seattle or anywhere else in the State."
Isn't it unusual for a council member to introduce a resolution when other council members are already working on a resolution about the exact same thing? Yep. Usually, if a council member wanted to tweak something others were working on, wouldn't he or she just introduce amendments to the original bill or resolution? Yep.
So, what the hell is Burgess up to? And will the other council members who claimed on Thursday that asking the state to lift the rent control ban is a distraction—looking at you, Rasmussen, Jean Godden, and John Okamoto—no longer think it's a distraction now that Burgess is introducing it?
Burgess's office wouldn't comment on why he's introducing this new resolution instead of amendments to the Licata/Sawant resolution and he wasn't immediately available to comment.
Sawant and Licata say they see Burgess's resolution as a victory, despite the stripped down language.
Licata says he thinks other council members are "going to feel more comfortable with how the wording is arranged. It's, I would say, a little less direct."
Licata says introducing the resolution is a "smart move" on Burgess's part considering he's being challenged for reelection by tenant advocate and outspoken rent control supporter Jon Grant.
"I think he didn’t want to vote for the resolution as presented and written by myself and Kshama, but he also recognized he had to do something that showed that he’s going to be responsible. He's up for reelection and running against probably the foremost housing advocate in the city. I think Jon Grant's campaign probably influenced him in where he was going to land on this issue."
Sawant says, "The fact this is even happening is a testament to how much momentum this movement is gaining. I frankly don't care who’s name is on the resolution."
That it's Burgess, who gets campaign contributions from developers, is "a sign that the real estate lobby is scared," Sawant says.
While she's supportive of the resolution, Sawant is opposed to taking a vote today because of the planned rally. A well-attended rally ahead of the vote would send a stronger message to the state legislature than a sparsely attended regular Monday meeting.
"They know a rally is organized for October 5. They know we are mobilizing," Sawant says of the other council members. "If an elected official was sincere about empowering the movement for affordable housing, you would go for that date for the maximum possible public involvement."
I'll update this post if I hear back from Burgess. The council meets at 2 p.m. Watch live here.