Seattle lost 1,315 affordable apartments in 2006. We lost 1,274 in 2007. It's probably not a coincidence that there were 3,854 condo conversions at the same time—average price: $250,000 for a one-bedroom.
So, it was nice to report just four days into this year's legislative session in Olympia that the state house passed a bill guaranteeing fair compensation for renters who get displaced by conversions and giving tenants a set amount of time to move out.
Bill sponsor Representative Maralyn Chase (D-32, Shoreline) upped the compensation from $500 to the equivalent of three months' rent, and increased the time from three months' notice to four months'. She also had an amendment to give local governments the right to stop landlords from converting units affordable to low-income tenants into condos. Since 2005, 4,500 affordable units have been lost to condo conversions in Seattle.
But I must say: I'm annoyed about having to report this. Why is Shoreline's Representative Chase playing Jack Bauer when the condo attack is threatening Seattle? Sure, Seattle senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard) is sponsoring the state senate version, but the meaty amendments are being shipped over from Chase, and more important, it remains to be seen if Kohl-Welles—like Chase—can usher it through.
In fact, Chase is sponsoring a parade of bills that seem like no-brainers for Seattle's 12-rep contingent in the house.
Why, here's one: House Bill 2424 would ban climate-killing plastic grocery bags and authorize a fine of up to $500 per day for providing prohibited bags. This is the kind of common-sense legislation that your Seattle reps—Sharon? Jamie? Phyllis?—should be leading on. Good luck. Not one Seattle rep—Jim? Eric? Helen?—has even signed on to Chase's timely bill against plastic bags. Nor have any Seattle reps—Frank? Mary Lou? Sharon?—signed on to Chase's attempt to snuff out plastic water bottles. And only one—thanks Zach!— has signed on to Chase's bill to ban bad-for-the-environment leaf blowers. Bob? Eileen?
Nor did anyone jump onboard when, last year, Chase submitted a cap-and-trade bill to limit carbon emissions. The bill quietly died last year. This year, the governor kicked off the session with a press conference in Seattle announcing, yep, a cap-and-trade bill.
Seattle politicians stood with Governor Gregoire that day. It's troubling, though, that they don't choose to stand with Representative Chase. And more important, that she seems to be standing in for them.