During this week’s Seattle City Council meeting, the council reconsidered a bill that would require landlords to report the size and price of their units to help the City better understand the state of rental housing. The council narrowly passed the bill last month, but the Mayor issued the first veto of his term to stop it, leaving the bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Alex Pedersen, to plead for just one of his colleagues to switch his or her vote to override the Mayor’s decision. He was not successful. Nobody flipped, and so Harrell’s veto was sustained.
The bill split the council along lines that differ from the body’s usual factions. Pedersen found supporters in Councilmembers Andrew Lewis, Lisa Herbold, Tammy Morales, and Kshama Sawant.
Before the vote, Pedersen tried to convince his usual allies, Councilmembers Debra Juarez and Sara Nelson, to change their votes.
At the initial vote, Juarez said she did not support the bill because it would add another stressor to the Office of Planning and Community Development and to the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections. Pedersen countered at this week's meeting. He said the City needed to collect the data for the Comprehensive Plan anyway, and that his bill offloads most of the work to a research university rather than to overburdened City departments. Pedersen did not change Juarez’s mind.
Nelson voted against the bill previously in solidarity with the landlords, who flooded public comment to pull at the heartstrings of “housing provider” sympathizers. The public commenters argued that Pedersen’s bill saddled small landlords – the city’s most oppressed class – with the undue burden of providing proof that they were not gouging their tenants. Furthermore, they argued, the bill only served as the latest installment of the council's pro-renter agenda. Pedersen. They said all that about Pedersen.
Pedersen tried to convince Nelson that, despite support from Morales and Sawant, the bill benefited landlords. He said landlords could use the data the bill required them to collect to “validate affordable benefits of smaller mom and pop landlords.”
The bill’s more progressive supporters tried different arguments to pull over Councilmember Dan Strauss, who is often a swing vote.
Morales said the data could “put a tremendous amount of power into the hands of tenants, shifting the scale towards something more balanced” between renters and the landlords who already seek information from tenants through required background checks.
Morales continued to argue that the data could give the council a deeper understanding of the affordability crisis in Seattle, push them to make major investments in housing, and to help them advocate for the state to lift the ban on rent control.
“So for me this legislation isn't necessarily about land use decisions that may or may not happen in the next two years. It's about nothing short of giving tenants the opportunity to stay in Seattle, something that we know many of them are losing quickly,” Morales said.
In even starker contrast to Pedersen, Sawant argued that the landlord lobbyist accurately recognized the bill as a threat.
“More accurate and more complete data will help further confirm what every renter in Seattle already knows: Big landlords and the predatory real estate markets are gouging renters with totally unconscionable rent hikes,” she said.
The easiest member to convince to join the pro-data side would have been Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who usually aligns with Morales and Sawant and who voted “no” initially due to budget concerns. Pedersen discredited those budget concerns. While some speculated that the data collection could cost the City up to $5 million, the bill saved money by using a research university and adding information to an existing registry. He said it could cost as little as $125,000 a year for three years.
Mosqueda did not hear Pedersen’s arguments because she did not attend the meeting. Morales attended even though she had recently contracted COVID-19, and Strauss came even though he had requested to be excused from the meeting that day.
Morales posted a tweet after the meeting, saying she was disappointed in the veto and the council’s decision to sustain it.
Sawant drew a firmer line in the sand between supporters and opponents. She said “it’s frankly scandalous that Mayor Harrell chose to use a rare veto to so brazenly do the bidding of the landlord lobby.” As for the council members who sustained it, she said anyone who considered themselves data-driven had no reason to oppose it – besides, of course, wanting to side with landlords.