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It was another busy day today starting with Councilmember Conlin’s PLUS (Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability) Committee and then in the afternoon chairing my HHSHC (Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee) meeting.

I was at PLUS for the vote on my proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment to “Guide the operation of safe and healthy transitional encampments to temporarily address homelessness in the City.”  The Comp Plan, including my amendment, passed after some debate.  From my perspective the impact of this language being included in the Comp Plan recognizes that there are temporary encampments in Seattle and that the Council and the Executive both want to be involved in setting new policy so that where encampments are permitted, they are safe for residents and do not negatively impact the neighborhoods where they are found.

Later this afternoon at 2pm, my HHSHC (Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture) Committee  received a final recommendation from Department of Planning and Development (DPD) about how they think the City should implement a new rental housing licensing and inspection program that I’ve been working on since 2006 and that the State Legislature authorized in the 2010 State Legislative session.   Since then, the most progress to date was made in June, 2010 when the Council passed a “placeholder” law with the plan to revisit the legislation after a group of stakeholders met and helped DPD to develop a recommendation to the Council.

Today’s recommendation from DPD was another big landmark in the long process of developing this program.  Still many questions are yet to be answered.  There is a lot of agreement around the licensing component of the bill.  Additionally, there’s agreement that landlords should be permitted to self-certify that they are in compliance with a set of defined life-safety standards.  One of the issues relates to the need to “trust, but verify” these self-certifications. Like me, most people want an inspection program to focus on improving the condition of unsafe housing, yet it’s hard to say exactly how much rental housing is in poor shape because we don’t have much information about the condition of our rental housing.  In 1988, the City inspected 350 buildings chosen at random for housing code compliance. The results of those inspections showed 13 percent of rental units had moderately severe to severe Housing Code violations.

So the question becomes if we allow landlords to self-certify compliance, how many properties do we aim to verify compliance with inspection?  In Los Angeles, the Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP) has as its goal, inspecting all 800,000 units in Los Angeles every 5 years.  The DPD proposal is to randomly select some percentage of properties to be inspected.  But if the program relies upon only minimal random inspections we may not have sufficient data to evaluate the program.   I think we will be better able to evaluate the quality of housing stock after we have gradually inspected all the properties for compliance over a ten year period.  I propose a program today that requires inspection of Seattle’s 42,000 rental properties over a period of ten years. After we have gathered information about the condition of all Seattle’s rental housing, I think we should evaluate the program.   An evaluation might suggest a schedule for future inspections – for instance every 5 years or putting different properties on different schedules depending on if they passed inspection or failed. Or an evaluation might suggest changing the model to inspect only some percentage of units needed to provide an incentive to property owners to maintain their properties.

I’ll be working with Councilmembers, DPD, and rental housing stakeholders over the next couple months to develop legislation to fund and implement this important new program.

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