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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 19, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 16
Kshama Sawant introduces rent control measures
Section One
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Kshama Sawant introduces rent control measures

Proposed ordinances would cap rent increases, give more money for relocation

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant debuted two rent control proposals at a City Hall press conference on April 15.

One would cap rent increases by linking them to inflation. The second would make landlords pay extra relocation money to tenants who have to move because of high rent increases.

The cap on rent increases would only take effect if and when the state legislature repeals its ban on municipal rent control legislation. That ban took effect in 1981, after intense lobbying by real estate brokers convinced state lawmakers to preempt local efforts to keep rent affordable.

If the City Council passes Sawant's proposal, it would take effect immediately after the state ban is repealed. According to Sawant, this would put pressure on state legislators to allow cities and counties to make their own rental policies.

State Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43) introduced legislation to do exactly that last year, but the bill died in committee. No one has proposed a similar measure in this year's legislative session.

'We need a bold and comprehensive approach to matching the scale of the problem, a policy program that puts people over profit,' Sawant said at the City Hall press conference announcing her proposals.

'We need rent control...

'We have two choices,' she continued.

'One, just sit on our hands and expect that someday, in the distant future, the Democratic establishment will gather the courage to break from the real estate lobby and finally stand with us. We've done that kind of waiting for 40 years.

'Or we can begin the fight here.'

If Sawant's proposal passes, and if the legislature acts, rents in Seattle would be allowed to increase no more than the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). On average, the CPI has increased about 2.3% per year over the last decade.

The current median rent in the Seattle metro area overall is $1,959 per month, 57% higher than the national average. By comparison, the average cost of living is only 24% higher than the national average, indicating that increases in housing costs are outpacing other costs in Seattle.

Sawant's second proposal would create an economic incentive for landlords to keep rents low by requiring them to pay extra relocation assistance if they force lower-income tenants out by raising rents more than 10% in a single year.

Currently, renters are eligible for relocation money only if their landlord wants to remodel or demolish their unit, but not if the landlord simply wants to raise rents.

Sawant's proposal would change that for renters who make up to 80% of the area median income (AMI) - currently $53,760 for an individual, or $76,800 for a family of four. If a landlord raises rent for a tenant failing within the income category, forcing the tenant to move, the landlord would be on the hook to pay their former tenant three times the former rent.

This would provide the renter with funds to cover the traditional 'first, last, and deposit' that their new landlord would typically charge for move-in costs.

This proposal does not require state action to become effective.

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