Rent Regulations, Housing Affordability and Local Control

Houses2The Council took several votes yesterday to address housing affordability in Seattle. First, we passed two measures regarding tenant protections and affordable housing preservation that I wrote about last week. Then we passed a resolution about local control of rent regulations with the following language:

The City Council supports efforts by the State Legislature to allow local governments to propose ordinances that significantly increase the supply of rent-restricted units and that protect tenants from sudden and dramatic rent increases, without causing a negative impact on the quality or quantity of housing supply, by modifying or repealing RCW 35.21.830.

This resolution is an endorsement of local control, not any specific policy. As I said explicitly before our vote yesterday, this resolution does not take a position on rent control.

After last week’s deadlocked committee discussion about a separate resolution that focused exclusively on rent control, it became clear to me that the Council needed a fresh start. Dogmatic rhetoric blocked pragmatic steps forward. As Council President, I drafted an alternative resolution that better captures the intent expressed by most councilmembers: to request local control for local solutions.

Residents of Seattle face an affordability crisis. Rising housing costs threaten our future as an equitable city. It’s incumbent on the Council to consider numerous strategies to increase the availability of affordable housing in Seattle, including some that require changes in State law. The resolution we passed yesterday is one measure, but there are more that have been recommended by the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee that the Full Council will adopt this coming Monday.

Cities should be given as many tools as possible to create rent-restricted units, like we currently do through a limited Multifamily Tax Exemption program and the Seattle Housing Levy. Cities should also be allowed to consider regulations that protect tenants from exorbitant increases without damaging the quality or quantity of housing supply. Prohibiting rents from increasing 50% or 100% in a 12-month period, for example, is a reasonable regulation and would not hurt the housing market.

I’m grateful my colleagues rallied around this more levelheaded language in support of local control and facilitated its quick adoption yesterday.

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