There's an affordable housing crisis in Seattle and yesterday, the co-chair of the mayor's Housing Affordability and Livability (HALA) Committee, told me that rent control—even supposing the state ban on regulating rents was overturned—just doesn't do what it's supposed to, so HALA won't be recommending it. The committee has been meeting in private since the fall.
"We have looked at the impacts of rent control," said HALA co-chair David Wertheimer, "over multiple different communities that have experimented with it. And that solution in cities, for example, like San Francisco, has not yielded the results that were hoped for."
In an e-mail to The Stranger, Jonathan Grant says that's a misrepresentation of what actually happened.
The HALA committee didn't analyze the effects of rent control, city staffers refused to study it, and developers shot down discussion of the proposal, Grant says. In addition to being a member of the HALA committee, Grant is a a council candidate running against Tim Burgess for a citywide seat and former director of the Tenants Union of Washington.
His response to Wertheimer's comments is below the jump. I've reached out to Wertheimer to get his response and will update this post when I hear back.
I am contacting you in my capacity as a member of the Mayor's Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda (HALA). I am concerned that Mr. Wertheimer fundamentally misrepresented that there was any substantive conversation on rent control in your recent June 15th article. His statements suggest that HALA won't consider the policy because of its perceived failings in other cities. In fact, there was no analysis done by the city about the effectiveness of that policy. We never even got to that point in the conversation because it was shot down for discussion by the developers in the room. It is a shame, because not many people in the Northwest understand that the reason city's like San Francisco suffer from skyrocketing rents are because of CA state laws like the Costa Hawkins Act, which is gradually eliminating rent controlled units causing rents to spike.
As the former Executive Director of the Tenants Union I was selected to work on the committee given that I have over ten years of experience in housing policy. I spent a significant amount of time providing studies, articles, and even drafting a white paper because the city staff refused to do this even at the request of other HALA members. None of this information was given due consideration by the broader committee. The way Mr. Wertheimer framed it made it sound like the city did some sort of analysis on this policy's effectiveness that was followed by a serious discussion by the HALA committee and found rent control doesn't work in other cities; when in fact it is the single most effective policy to preserve affordable housing and the HALA committee gave it no serious consideration.
In order for consensus to have meaning, there must be pressure exerted on parties to make true concessions in order to find middle ground. Absent that, if one side already has what they want, then there is no reason to come to the table and actually make a concession. In effect, consensus can become a de facto veto by the private sector who is more than happy with the current ban on rent control, even where there is otherwise consensus among the other community-oriented HALA members to advance useful housing policy. The reason rent control will not be included in the final recommendations is not because it is a defective policy, but because of power; and who is currently wielding it in the room.
UPDATE: Wertheimer responds: "I don’t think that there needs to be clarification of what The Stranger reported from my perspective. Here’s what I think it’s accurate to say occurred: One of the HALA work groups had an in-depth discussion of rent control issues, and brought a recommendation and conversation to the full HALA. That recommendation was considered by the full HALA in the same fashion as the other recommendations from the work groups, and as of our current state of deliberations, it has not achieved the level of strong majority support that would result in its being included in our current list of recommendations... That said, the full HALA has not yet reviewed and approved our final list of recommendations, or our final report, so it’s not yet time to say what will or won’t be in our final documents. That remains for the HALA to determine during its final meetings."