Last Week in Olympia: Sparks Fly Over Rental Legislation

Last week I made comments on Senate Bill 5569, legislation that would essentially roll back some of the new requirements being placed on rental units in Seattle, specifically first in time requirements in Seattle. These requirements elevate the status of the first person to show up at a vacant rental property to the same status as religion, race, or disability. Even if a person renting a property has several qualified applicants, she can’t pick and choose based on need or disposition or anything; the first person to show up gets the unit. This was intended to stop something that nobody has shown is actually happening, renting only to people that work at Amazon or other tech companies. The Seattle City Council is trying to accomplish rent control in all but name with other requirements like limits on deposits and new inspections regimes. All of these things are based on anecdotes not data and are intended to help renters. What would help renters is more housing, so that land lords had to compete with other land lords for tenants. But as long as housing is scarce, life for people looking for housing won’t get any easier. 

You can’t see my face, but at the end Senator Frockt challenges me and I insist on the point that simply being in a room while issues are discussed is not consultation. The Seattle City Council has really ceased to be a deliberative body when it comes to most land use and housing legislation, passing whatever feels good over the objection of people that know about how to make and operate housing. That’s a big reason why I am having to appeal to the State Legislature for help. 

There has always been a dynamic and even creative and healthy tension between state and local control. In Seattle, at a time when demand for housing is outpacing supply, producers and operators of housing have faced an ever expanding gauntlet of rules, regulations, fees, fines, inspections, infringements, and limitations that are confusing for both housing providers and consumers and have become increasingly difficult to manage and administer. It’s time for the state to take back some control.

What’s important for the Committee to know, is that this chimera of regulation does not help poor people, people of color, people with evictions, or people with criminal records. Rather, the City of Seattle has indulged in the imposition of piecemeal rent control for purely political and ideological reasons. Also important, is that the Mayor and Council have pursued this improvisational regulatory spree with no consultation whatsoever with people who make and manage housing.

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