City Council Advocates For Rent Control

In response to the ever-rising costs of living in Seattle, City Council passed a resolution last Monday asking the state to lift its ban on rent control. It looks unlikely that the request will be granted, as there is no support in any districts outside of the city to get rid of the statewide ban.

City Council members Kshama Sawant and Nick Lacata have been supporting the resolution for months. Council President Tim Burgess—who previously said he opposes introducing rent control to Seattle—edited the resolution from its original version, omitting pro-rent-control language and simply asking for a
lift on the ban.

The resolution states that the ban should only be lifted or modified if this can be done “without causing a negative impact on the quality or quantity of housing supply.” While there seems to be a consensus that rent in the city is too high, whether or not rent control would help the
situation is debatable.

“With the present economy and minimum wage, I support rent control,” said former Seattle University student Emma Marmor. “If minimum wage were to be increased regularly based on living expenses, then rent control wouldn’t be necessary.”

In theory, rent control makes it possible for people who don’t make a ton of money to live in big cities such as New York, San Francisco and London by capping rent increases. But those who argue against the policy say that it does not actually help the majority of renters and that the renters it does benefit are normally not the ones in real need of a bargain.

In New York City, for example, most rent-controlled leases are indefinite so the first people who move in are rarely inclined to move out. The availability of rent-controlled units decreases and prices everywhere else in the city begin to rise.

“I guess you could go either way,” said junior political science major Megan Rahrig. “Rent control wouldn’t really change the economy like minimum wage, but not having rent control would probably eventually force the economy to level out to a point where rent is affordable.”

Students at Seattle U understand the difficulties of finding an affordable living situation. With low availability of housing on campus and few affordable prospects off-but-near campus, the house hunting process can be a nightmare.
“Seattle has this huge affordable housing crisis going on, but student housing is not being put into the equation,” senior graphic design major Anna Thiel said. “And we are already indebted, because we’re spending thousands of dollars on our tuition.”

Thiel, who moved off campus after her sophomore year, said she and her roommate searched for an apartment for months with no luck before finally signing a lease. In the last four weeks of the summer before her junior year, Thiel was living in Xavier Global House and spending each day looking for places to live. She said the options were incredibly limited.

“You’d go to an open house and it would already be gone,” Thiel said. “People are signing leases without even seeing these units because the availability is so low.”

Though she eventually found a place close to campus, Thiel noted the drawbacks of living in Capitol Hill on a budget – namely that her rent has increased greatly since she and her roommate moved in.

“I’m paying a low income rent for an apartment that’s falling apart,” Thiel said. “It really makes the environment that’s supposed to be your home, and an escape from the stress of school and work, really not a good escape.”
Junior humanities for leadership major Joseph Delos Reyes, a commuter student, said he is frustrated that the new units in Capitol Hill are not more affordable, considering that many of the neighborhood’s residents are college students.

“When I’m driving to school, I can’t help but see the new, shiny buildings and think, ‘Wow, I would love to live there,’” Delos Reyes said.

City Council also approved a few bills last week to benefit Seattle renters. One requires landlords to give tenants a 90-day notice when they are evicting a tenant for reasons that are of no fault of the tenant. Another requires people who own affordable rental buildings to give the city a 60-day notice before putting the buildings up for sale.

The resolution to lift the ban on rent control in Washington is now headed to Olympia, where it will face opposition with a Republican held senate.