If Washington Doesn’t Pass Rent Control in 2020, Lawmakers Could Face a Sweeping Ballot Measure

Comments

1

This state has consistently rejected even a hint of an income tax.

It sucks, but we're more conservative than OR or CA. This will go nowhere.

2

Rents have pretty much stabilized for the last four years.

4

Tim Eyman has shown that ballot measures are effective ways of forcing Olympia to adopt new policies, even when the politicians themselves oppose them.

Rather than let the political right have an exclusive license to use referenda to enact reforms, it is time the Left make heavy use of the ballot measure process to enact our own reforms.

You can vote for whomever you like. Regardless, Olympia will never of its own accord adopt measures that favor the working class. Until we make use of the referendum process, politicians who take money from corporations will continue to screw us.

5

@4 Now you're talking. If working people voted more, then there would be more politicians relying on the votes of working people. And therefore, policies more favorable to working people.

I don't think initiatives are enough. Even if you get one passed, if the legislature doesn't like it, they can wear it down over time. You need consistent, engaged political behavior. This is something Unions used to be good at which explains the implacable hostility of the GOP to unions.

6

How about an initiative designed at building a meaningful public housing sector? That is really the only way that there are going to be units that rent for what the truly lower-income people can afford. But I guess the tenant advocates would rather put the burden of providing cheap housing on the relatively small fraction of people who own rental housing.

Also, as @2 noted, rents are not going up all that much on average now. This may have something to do with a fairly large number of new apartments being built (at least in Seattle). Would that suggest that increasing supply is really the way out of this?

7

"it is time the Left make heavy use of the ballot measure process to enact our own reforms."

Just like the income tax initiative, I-1098!

Oh right, that crashed and burned.

10

This, folks, is one of many reasons why I vote. Anyone who says "meh" and doesn't fill out a ballot (they're mail in and postage FREE! How easy is that?) has no excuse to bitch over the outcome later if the election results are disappointing.

12

Rep. Ryu's 10% cap seems like a perfectly reasonable starting point. No idea if it would hold up in Washington's courts, however.

I don't see a statewide referendum passing. In our last major election in California—a state with a massive renter base—even we rejected an attempt to tighten rent control laws.

I'd love see Washington set an example: Fast-track transit projects and prioritize residential construction around those hubs. You could rezone the entire city to allow 60' apartment buildings tomorrow but it could take generations for that housing stock to both infill and become affordable, and the price you pay in the meantime will be the loss of some very affordable homes.

13

Well, actually everyone isn’t a renter. About 55% of Seattleites are renters.

Anyway, I have a question that you housing nerds maybe can answer: I just learned that landlords can end a month-to-month lease if they’re selling the property — but only if it’s a single-family home. People who own condos, townhomes, and duplexes aren’t allowed to do so. Why this discrimination against people with more modest homes? What was the rationale behind that law?

14

Mean while, in Upland, California...I was late FOR THE FIRST TIME...two days after my grace period and served a UD ? The only oulet was an "Eviction Buyout" which happened to be DOUBLE MY RENT setting me back half a months rent . I paid to avoid moving and tarnishing our good rental history. My Landlord refused to allow me to utilize state mandated rental assistance to catch up. Now, I am pending another legal action for EVICTION anyway... with more court fees.... and looking for new housing at the mercy of my previous landlord giving me a good rental history report ? I feel like I am living a nightmare....I strongly feel that people (TENANTS) need more protection rights. Especially when the market is not "owner" friendly. (Single family homes cannot afford to buy) We need rent stabilization laws that protect "good tenants" from evictions by greedy corporate property management companies, landlords, and thier attorneys.

17

@16 the average apartment is not $6,000. The average San Francisco renter pays $1,880. The average person wishing to move here today would pay $3,550. What rent control does, for better or worse, is protect people from losing their housing due to excessive increases—the side effects being it creates a sort of "invite only unless your rich" system.

if you're wishing to blame that on rent control alone, however, just look to the surrounding cities which are much less regulated and their situation is just as bad, in some cases (Silicon Valley), much worse.

https://sf.curbed.com/2019/10/31/20942049/san-francisco-silicon-valley-average-rents-new-renters

18

*you're

19

@17, It is the possibility of future rent control, not just the fact of existing rent control, that chills construction of new housing. Thus, it is not surprising that construction in California is missing in all cities, even those without rent control. Although it failed on the 2018 ballot, elected officials in California like Eric Garcetti advocate extending rent control throughout the state and even repealing the Elis Act prohibition of rent control on recent construction.

Rent control may not be the only reason why California has limited housing supply, but housing markets are linked. Rent control in Los Angeles obviously raises rents in nearby cities because housing in the city is a close substitute for housing elsewhere.

investors in housing have “rational expectations” about the future legal environment. Housing is created only through investment, whether public or private, and the mere possibility of rent control raises uncertainty about future returns, upon which investors depend for borrowing.

Ask yourself, why would public investment solve this crisis? Public agencies would have to borrow to construct the housing, but they would be unable to pay back the bonds from from the limited revenues of rent controlled apartments. Can public agencies somehow build housing for less than private investors? It’s the other way around.

As cities with rent control exhaust their limited borrowing capacity to produce housing that is unable to recoup its own construction costs, they will be forced to raise property taxes to further construction of social housing, raising costs for all borrowers.

A solution to the housing crises will take time, because this crisis has been building for generations already. Here’s the solution:

Eliminate single family zoning and other restrictive zoning measures in cities, and especially near transit lines.
Instead of using the limited borrowing capacity of local and regional governments or agencies to build housing, borrow to build new mass transit lines to sites nearby that permit construction of higher density housing. Transit is part of the overall cost of housing, for rent burdened families.
Pass a statewide constitutional amendment that prohibits all forms of rent control, to reduce risk and uncertainty for investors. Ban local initiatives, and create significant electoral barriers to their return. States that have such bans on rent control have the lowest housing costs. This ban should be part of a grand social bargain that includes protection for tenants, including a ban on evictions without just cause in all larger multi unit buildings.
Amend building codes and other restrictions to permit construction of smaller and less expensive forms of housing, such as micro housing and rooming houses.
Amend codes to permit new construction techniques like modular construction and mass timber construction, to lower construction costs and time to delivery of new housing.
Pay for new mass transit not with impact fees on development (which raise the cost of building housing at all levels), but rather by introducing a statewide income tax comparable to that in Oregon. Make Washington like other states that have progressive income taxes. As part of a grand bargain this income tax can include an earned income credit that offsets the tax to low income wage earners, an abatement for taxes on retirement income below some threshold, and a lowering of the regressive sales tax.

20

@18 I agree with your first two paragraphs.

It should be noted that rent control in San Francisco only applies to building built before 1979, so it shouldn't be a primary factor for falling behind our density quotas, but strict tenant protections of course do dissuade developers from building rentals vs condos (I don't enjoy that fact, but that's the business. I think the last time a building was completed specifically to be rental units in either Seattle or San Francisco was due to the financial crisis of 10 years ago—buildings planned as condos during the boom years were now hitting the market to a populace that could no longer get loans.)

Invest in transit, rezone, repeal some of the community empowerment that holds projects up as well as getting the zoning board's head out of its ass about "out of character" buildings (it's not that the issue isn't valid, they're just tasteless goons that are usually wrong about what belongs)—we will never be able to build truly affordable new units in the free market but at least some increased supply will stop the bleeding for now and create affordable housing opportunities for future generations.

Rent control was a reaction to an ongoing problem, not a fun perk that started this whole mess.

21

@20 Yes it’s true that San Fransisco’s current law only applies to units built before 1979, which kind of begs the question ... How many units have been built SINCE 1979? Practically none.

And why is that? The Elis act would allow San Francisco at any time to extend rent control to units built between 1979-1995. (There were almost none, so the point is moot.)

Tenant activists in California consider the 1995 cutoff for rent control to be a loophole, and are actively fighting for its repeal, with the support of many elected officials and the possibility of repeal at any time by the ballot. It’s no wonder nobody develops new apartments in California.

22

@21 The most recent 10-year averages are 2,745 units added per year, I'm not sure if it's safe to extrapolate that over 40 years however as that would imply we've added almost a 1/4 of our total housing in that amount of time.

In 2017, the city gained 4,500 units for 8,260 new residents. It hasn't been enough to overcome competing market forces, but it's a significant number, especially for our tiny land mass.

https://missionlocal.org/2018/04/amid-housing-crisis-sf-builds-fewer-units-last-year-than-in-2016/

23

@22 What that article in Mission Local is giving you is the total number of new housing units added, not the number of new market rate rental units. Here is a link to the 2017 Housing Inventory from the San Francisco Planning Department, the data upon which the article is based:

https://default.sfplanning.org/publications_reports/2017_Housing_Inventory.pdf

Out of the 4,500 units added per this article, 3,216 were new condominiums sold at market rates. Most of the rental units added in 2017 were in subsidized (often through sacrifice of future tax revenue) affordable housing programs.

New construction of market rate rental housing, except for units permitted as market rate within affordable developments, was practically nil. It wasn't clear from the data given whether there was even a net increase in rental housing, since there were reductions through demolition, conversion to condominiums, and so forth.

24

@23 If you meant "how many rental units were added" than I think we generally agree. I personally think protecting tenants from massive rent increases and unjust evictions is of the upmost importance BUT this is the unfortunate trade-off. Of course a good portion of those condos will be used as rentals, but that's outside the scope of rent control as SFHs are exempt.

Tangentially, the sole reason I voted "no" on the statewide rent control initiative was the SF board of supervisors were going to use it go overturn the condo/SFH exemption which would put an unfair burden on the smallest of business owners.

25

@myself and @23 My second sentence isn't meant to sound sanctimonious, just that I support one thing but recognize but also recognize the consequences.