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Seattle City Council could prep the city for a day without a rent-control ban

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Rent control is still illegal on the state level, but Kshama Sawant wants to get ready, anyway


Monday morning, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant announced she’d be introducing an ordinance that would implement rent control in Seattle—as soon as the State of Washington lifts the long-in-place statewide ban on it.

The ban has been in place since 1981, when, as KUOW notes, a conservative-majority legislature convened empowered by the election of Ronald Reagan. It’s kept municipalities in Washington State from enacting any kind of system that would curtail rising rents, whether that looked like an existing rent control system—San Francisco, for example, is often used as a case study by rent control critics like the Rental Housing Association of Washington—or something tailor-made to work for a city like Seattle.

Literature distributed by Sawant’s office at a press conference Monday morning did not provide details on the specific policy, but said that “by rent control, we mean linking rent increases to inflation.”

“Unlike other components of an affordable housing plan, rent control, when broadly applied, can have an immediate impact on the housing market,” read the FAQ.

The ordinance follows recommendations from the Seattle Renters Commission, a city-appointed board that advises the city council and mayor’s office on issues specific to renters, that support an expanded economic evictions ordinance (another effort renewed by Sawant this morning) and urge city leaders to “affirm their support of a repeal of the Statewide rent control ban.”

In 2015, the city council passed a resolution calling for the law to be changed. The city’s 2019 legislative agenda, which was approved by the city council, calls “repeal or modification” of the law “to allow local governments to protect tenants from rent increases, without causing a negative impact on the quality or quantity of housing supply”—something that’s been part of the agenda for years now.

Unfortunately, there’s no immediate end in sight for the statewide ban on rent control. An ordinance sponsored by Seattle state legislator Nicole Macri died in committee last year and wasn’t reintroduced for this year’s session. With the cutoff for bill introduction long gone, the legislature couldn’t repeal the ban until 2020 at the absolute earliest.

But it’s something that’s gained a lot of traction, especially west of the Cascades. While announcing the planned legislation this morning, Sawant was joined by representatives from faith and labor groups, as well as the Tenants Union of Washington—although with rising costs of housing in Seattle, it’s been a common talking point in municipal politics for a few years now. Seattle’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America even organized a rent control day in Olympia back in February. Similar efforts have been organized by economic and racial justice group Washington CAN.