Despite all the buzz about rent control in Seattle, the policy is against state law and won’t help solve the city’s housing crunch.
SEATTLE City Council members and candidates should stop talking about rent control.
Rents have skyrocketed in recent years and it’s understandable why leaders and candidates would consider restricting rent increases. But it is a failed policy in other cities, and it’s against state law.
Yet, at least two City Council members, Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata,are sponsoring a resolution to pursue a change in state law that would allow rent control. That’s a highly unlikely scenario, but the council is expected to take up the measure in September.
The resolution includes statistics that are meant to be distressing, such as the fact that rents for one-bedroom apartments rose nearly 11 percent between 2010 and 2013. While that sounds like a lot, the three-year rise was during an economic recovery after a severe housing crash. Another statistic: Forty-five percent of renter households in Seattle pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities — sounds high, but it’s below the national average of 52 percent.
What the resolution doesn’t address is how a rent-control policy in Seattle would work and not result in the same problems found in other cities.
In San Francisco and New York City, rent control has created a two-tiered market because only some apartments have rent control, based on when they were built. Rent-control policies do not take into account the income or family size of the tenants.
If the goal is to help economically vulnerable residents, then rent control is the wrong tool. It comes with unintended consequences, such as landlords not maintaining or upgrading their properties because they can’t raise rents to recoup costs.
Seattle’s housing market has tightened significantly in recent years because of rapid job and population growth. The city’s leaders are right to tackle rising housing costs, but there are other ways to help renters most in need — those on fixed incomes, seniors and families.
The mayor and City Council should focus on more viable strategies that came out of the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee, such as offering landlords tax incentives to keep apartments affordable and building more subsidized housing for low-income residents.
Figuring out how to implement those ideas would be a far better use of time than debating a failed policy that has little chance of solving the housing crunch.