In a potential boon for tenants, last week Seattle Sen. Jamie Pedersen breathed new life into a bill to reduce rent-gouging when he steered the legislation away from his chamber's housing committee, where a similar bill suffered a clumsy and untimely death at the hands of Vancouver Sen. Annette Cleveland, and toward the Ways and Means committee, where it now faces obstacles in the form of... several other conservative Democrats.

That Senate committee will hear the bill today. If they end up voting on it later on, renters can only lose one Dem vote, and Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet already opposes the legislation. Of the other Dems in that committee, Majority Leader Andy Billig told The Stranger he's riding the fence, and Sens. Steve Conway, Lisa Wellman, and Sam Hunt did not bother to answer my question. Meanwhile, though Sen. Kevin Van De Wege cosponsored the Senate's version of the bill, he's since launched a bid to become the state's landlord. I asked him if his support extended to the House's version of the bill, but he didn't bother to respond, either. 

Though Pedersen helped keep the bill alive in his chamber, he can now either help convince his colleagues to support the popular proposal or else help to arrange a quiet execution.

In an interview with The Stranger last week, he promised to vote for the bill if lawmakers send it to the floor, despite his (understandable but unconvincing) concerns about its impacts to the housing supply. Afterwards, at a district town hall over the weekend, members of Seattle's LGBTQ community raised their concerns about his concerns, telling their stories and voicing their support for the measure, which they believe will help save the gayborhood—or what's left of it after years of gentrification.

A petition from LGBTQ community members in the 43rd Legislative District that circulated yesterday urged Sen. Pedersen to use his influence to push the bill forward. "Over the years, due to excessive rent hikes, we have seen our friends and chosen family priced out of our community, economically evicted from places they have chosen to live for the safety and community it provides. We have been priced out of what has historically been the 'gayborhood' into other neighborhoods and cities that are less inclusive," the letter reads.   

Earlier this week, Seattle's LGBTQ Commission submitted to the Ways and Means Committee written testimony saying more or less the same thing. 

They ain't lyin'. As the Seattle Times reported back in 2014, Capitol Hill "experienced a 23 percent drop in same-sex couple households" during the first 12 years of this century. Likely causes for the exodus included a cocktail of gentrification and an increasingly welcoming environment outside of the traditional gayborhood. 

As rents continued to skyrocket from 2012 to 2020, rising 92% while state lawmakers twiddled their thumbs, Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka asked if we were still an LGBTQ-friendly city. She found that many gays and theys just couldn't afford to live in community anymore. According to a 2021 Public Health - Seattle & King County survey quoted in that story, 35% of LGBTQ respondents reported earning less than $30,000 per year, which isn't enough to live anywhere, let alone in the middle of town. Another 2020 analysis found that more LGBTQ people in the metro area now live outside of Seattle. 

According to Sen. Pedersen's own numbers, 72% of households in the 43rd Legislative District rent their homes, and 33% of those renters count as rent-burdened, which means they pay more than 30% of their income toward housing costs. 

Kaiden Cook, a former legislative intern for House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and a current worker at Hot Cakes on the Hill, said a 25% rent hike pushed them and a roommate out of Lake City. They found a spot close to work on Capitol Hill, but the price of rent means Cook transfers 50%-60% of their income from their boss to their landlord, putting them in the "severely rent-burdened" category. "That's not awesome," they said. 

Cook's no stranger to the disruption of high rents. When the 2008 financial crash wiped out their parents' finances, successive rent hikes pushed their family out of Arlington, WA, and deep into unincorporated Snohomish County, farther away from the school where their dad teaches. 

Now that they're a full-time public policy student with a particular passion for transportation and housing supply issues, they know increasing housing supply will help blunt aggregate rent increases in the long-term, but "that's not very helpful to me or to anyone else trying to afford rent right now," they said. At least with a rent increase cap of 7%, they'll have some semblance of stability.

Cook also works on campaigns, and they want to work in government. The lack of stable rents makes them feel as if Washington doesn't want to support enterprising young people who care about improving their communities. 

John Nolan doesn't count as rent-burdened, but his relative financial stability didn't save him from a $1,000 per month rent hike on the Hill. The 38-year-old moved to Seattle from Chicago five years ago, and he's since moved six times. The absurdly high rent hike spurred the last move. "It was a bit jarring to say the least," he said. 

He said he received "multiple notices" alerting him to the massive increase, but none of the notices gave a reason. Was it an algorithmic mistake? A pure economic eviction? The whole thing turned him off so much that he didn't follow up with the property manager and just got out of there. 

The walkability and the community on Capitol Hill "makes or breaks" the city for him—"I wanted to be with my people," he said—so he began yet another search for an apartment nearby. He found one he could afford, but the hassle of moving wasn't exactly a thrill. Yet another issue he's facing at his new place will force him play apartment hopscotch again. 

Xavi Perez has also had to hop around from apartment to apartment, thanks in part to rent increases. In 2015, Perez moved from Miami to Seattle to "join a community where I could be myself," but sky-high rent rates presented obstacles "time and again," straining his finances to the breaking point.

"In the last nine years, I've moved over 15 times to find a place to afford my basic needs and save money to pay my student loans, which amount to over $500 a month," he said. 

It all came to a head in 2020, when he moved to Michigan to advance his career and to enjoy far lower housing costs. Unfortunately, the move was "detrimental" to his mental health. Despite affordability concerns, he said he moved back in 2022 because he "didn't have that sense of belonging" he has among the LGBTQ community in the 43rd District. 

Though Perez has spent a decade in the multifamily housing industry, which gives him access to discounts on rents, the generosity of those discounts change as he changes positions in that sector, and right now he still qualifies as rent-burdened.

He said he needs to create a financial plan to purchase in Seattle to avoid displacement from his community, but the lack of a rent hike cap prevents him from formulating that plan in any sort of reliable way. A cap of 7% would help, though he admits it's a little high. "Based on my experience in the field, 3%-5% is typically a healthy increase," he said.

That experience in the field has both challenged his ethics and given him hope. On one hand, he's sat around a table with various asset and property managers as they discussed how high they could hike rents based on recommendations from algorithms. On the other, he sees a future where the state can help landlords transition to greener buildings, which could help save on maintenance costs and amount to a win-win for both property managers and renters. 

But thinking about the future is impossible when the ground beneath your feet is constantly shifting. Passing a rent cap—even at a high 7%—would be a good start to adding transparency and accountability to a market that 40% of the state relies on for the most basic of human needs outside of food and water.