Let’s be blunt: When your landlord jacks your rent 145 percent, you are being kicked out.
It doesn’t come with a formal eviction notice, or any legal protections. But when you’re paying $650 a month for a studio one day, and the landlord gives you a new price of $1,593, the implied message is: Goodbye.
I started chronicling gouging rent increases such as this years ago, and featured some as high as 100 percent in the boom of 2007. At the time a rental real estate expert told me that a 100 percent rent hike floored him and was “the extreme of the extreme.”
As detailed Tuesday in this newspaper, tenants at the Linda Manor Apartments were just handed rent increases of 130 to 145 percent. They went from below-market rents for West Seattle to above market for a downtown high-rise, in one fell swoop.
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In cities that aren’t the Wild West for renters, they call this an “economic eviction,” and have price-gouging type laws that can at least slow the rate of the hikes. But in Seattle, you’re on your own. You get 60 days’ notice and that’s it.
My bet from covering similar stories is the city will shrug and the rent-gouging will continue unabated. And most if not all of these tenants will be forced to move out.
But where will they go?
“I’m coming up with zilch,” said one of the tenants, a disabled woman in her 60s who got the 145 percent shocker. The implication was: She’ll have to move out of the neighborhood, and potentially out of the city.
The other day when I was writing about a scholarship program for kids in poor and working-class families, I noticed a change in Seattle. Last year, for the first time in two decades, the share of kids in the city’s public schools who get free or reduced-price lunches fell below 40 percent.
Since 2012, even as Seattle Public Schools have grown by 2,700 students, the number of kids in the free lunch program has dropped by nearly 600 kids.
Good news, right?
“It would be good news if the families are moving up the economic ladder,” says Alan Berube, a researcher with the Brookings Institution who has studied how wealth, or a lack of it, is changing this region.
But it’s probably not that most are moving up, he said. They’re moving out.
Berube has chronicled how the poverty rate is soaring in formerly middle-class suburbs, such as Kent and Federal Way. In the Kent schools, for example, 52 percent of the students now are in the free lunch program, a sea change rise of 20 points from just 10 years ago.
“With the economy mostly stagnant in the middle and bottom, if you’re seeing an absolute decline in the numbers of poorer people in Seattle, then migration out of the city is going to be a huge part of that,” he said.
It’s like a big, slow-motion economic eviction. Only from an entire city.
For years now we’ve been debating how Seattle is becoming a city for only the rich and the homeless. To fight that, there’s talk of financing more subsidized housing, or passing rent control, or mass-producing units the size of college dorm rooms.
As far as supply and demand goes, it’s hard to imagine we could add more new apartments than are going up currently. Yet the exodus of the poor and working class only seems to be accelerating.
The Linda Manor is just nine apartments. If every tenant there flees Seattle, it will scarcely register in the demographers’ data sets.
But this is how a city’s culture shifts. The old extreme is eclipsed and so becomes normal. When this 145 percent rent increase chart-topper is also itself topped (which in boom city it probably will be in short order), nobody will find it remarkable anymore, either.
Seattle is hollowing out, one Linda Manor at a time.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org