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On Other Blogs Today: The Rent Is Too Damn High Edition

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By Erica C. Barnett March 19, 2014


1. Over at the PI.com, Joel Connelly has a sweet remembrance of former Seattle City Council member and King 5 newsman Jim Compton, who died suddenly of a heart attack on Monday evening.

Compton, Connelly writes, "had the Northwest in his blood," returning to the region after attending journalism school at Columbia and frequently writing entertaining on his 76-foot boat, a converted U.S. Forest Service patrol vessel. Compton was 72.  

2. In a piece that should resonate off the debates going on in Seattle (at least that's what Seattle Transit Blog  thinks), STB reports on the reason German housing prices have actually decreased 10 percent over the past two years, even as prices in the UK risen 230 percent. The secret (in part)? The law of supply and demand: 

A key to the story is that German municipal authorities consistently increase housing supply by releasing land for development on a regular basis. The ultimate driver is a  central government policy of providing financial support to municipalities based on an up-to-date and accurate count of the number of residents in each area.

Additionally, the Germans make it difficult to buy property, by setting maximum loan amounts (generally no more than 80 percent of a home's value) and ensuring strong tenant rights, so that renting is often more appealing than buying. 

Image via Forbes.


3. And speaking of rents: Over at the Seattle Times, Danny Westneat discovers what is already abundantly obvious to anyone who actually lives from paycheck to paycheck: If your rent doubles, that's basically the equivalent of an eviction notice. 

Not that the plight of the renter he profiles in today's column—an elderly woman whose former landlord kept the rent artifically low for years—isn't sad; it is. But it's also the plight of thousands of people in Seattle who've seen rents skyrocket in recent years, to an average of about $1,200 a month for a one-bedroom.

The fact that those rents aren't affordable to many tenants speaks to much larger, and more systemic, issues than the need to keep rents artificially low (the woman Westneat profiles was paying a shockingly affordable $680 a month), but it's easier to demonize landlords for charging market prices than address problems like the lack of living wages, health coverage, and elder care in our city, state, and nation.  

4. And speaking of living wages: I'd really love to see some data to back up restaurateurs' claims that increasing the minimum wage to $15 will force them to raise their prices, in one case (a local group of high-end restaurants) cited uncritically by the Puget Sound Business Journal, by as much as 25 percent.

That would suggest—using a back-of-the-napkin calculation, and assuming that the restaurant empire in question is paying the absolute legal minimum of $9.32 an hour—that labor costs make up about half of the restaurants' budget. Maybe that's true. I'd like to see some numbers.

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