With the the city council scheduled to appoint the temporary housing committee “caretaker” spot coming right up (2pm today), we’ve got a some last-minute info: What exactly are their stances on the hot topic of last Thursday’s packed affordable housing town hall.

Thursday night's council member hosts, Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant, asked the four applicants who were present—Sharon Lee, Sheley Secrest, Alec Stephens, and Noel Frame—to share their thoughts on rent control with the crowd, estimated at 500. 

Here’s what they had to say.

(We’ve also included some of the applicants' formal responses to a questionnaire sent out by Sawant prior to  Friday's formal applicant grilling, which asked bluntly: “Do you support rent control?” Four applicants returned Sawant's questionnaire: Lee, Moseley, Secrest, and Stephens.)

One Question

Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee

Town hall response:

Lee said she “isn’t afraid of rent control,” having experienced living in a controlled unit in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a student—and how it helped stop the “gentrification” of her community. She called the state ban “totally outrageous” and would like to see it overturned, in addition to reforming the practice of interest on tenant deposits going to landlords, rather than tenants.

Questionnaire response:

Yes. I was awarded scholarships and financial aid while attending grad school at MIT. It was expensive paying MIT tuition and living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I did not get saddled with huge student loan debt when I graduated precisely because I lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Cambridge. I had a wonderful landlord and the rent was raised 2 to 4 percent each year. I was able to see firsthand that rent control reduced the impact of gentrification and displacement in Cambridge.

I support the city council passing a resolution to lift the state ban on rent control. Even Mayor Murray, when he was a state legislator, sponsored bills to abolish the ban on rent control. Cities should have local control on whether they want rent control and rent stabilization.

While I've lived in Seattle for over 30 years, I grew up in Philadelphia. A Fair Housing Ordinance and a Fair Housing Commission existed in Philly. By law, landlords could not raise the rent if housing code violations existed on a property. This protected many struggling and working-class families, including many renters of color, from unaffordable rent increases. Landlords could not terminate a lease or change the terms of a lease if code violations were present. Renters were able to appeal illegal rent increases to the Fair Housing Commission. Landlords also had to certify that all rental housing had working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. Seattle should look at these options to ensure fairness in the housing market.

Urban League analyst Sheley Secrest

Town hall response:

Secrest said she is for rent control, linkage fees, and for repurposing vacant buildings for affordable housing purposes. She added that she’s for a “realistic, commonsense solution to solving the [affordable] housing problems.”

Questionnaire response:

Yes, I am in support of rent control, enforcement codes, increased notice requirements, incentive development, and other tools that the city should utilize to keep housing affordable to low and middle-income residents. While state legislation places direct restrictions on rent control, I'd be open to explore the exception to the statute, which reads in pertinent part: This section shall not be construed as prohibiting any city or town from entering into agreements with private persons which regulate or control the amount of rent to be charged for rental properties. RCW 35.21.830.

Retired civil rights attorney and Sound Transity diversity manager Alec Stephens

Town hall response:

Stephens said he was “happy” that so many different possible solutions to addressing affordable housing were being tossed around at the forum, though he went on to add that he doesn't know about rent control, due to the daunting task of getting the legislature to overturn the ban. Stephens said Seattle should focus on solutions the city can create alone, but that doesn’t mean pushback against the state ban can’t continue. “We need to have every tool we can in the tool box.”

Questionnaire response:

“I support taking all effective measures to address the issue of housing and rent affordability for Seattle’s residents, especially those who are on the lower end of the economic spectrum. Rent control is an issue that will need to be proposed by the legislature in a process that can easily take more than one session, and with Republican control of the senate, would likely not be accomplished until Democrats regain control of that chamber. In the meantime, if the issue of housing affordability is a crisis, which I believe it is, we should look at all measures that can address the issue. I do not believe that there is only one single thing that needs to be done to address this issue, and all measures should be on the table.”

Former Seattle ferries director David Moseley (not at forum)

Questionnaire response:

“I would focus our energy on programs and policies that are achievable and can increase affordable housing now. Rent control is not legal in this state, and the state legislature is unlikely to reverse that position in the near future.”

Longtime civil rights leader Sharon Maeda (didn't fill out questionnaire)

Town hall response:

Maeda spent a good chunk of time sifting through her history as a housing justice activist (as if reading off a resume), but when push came to shove, she skirted the policy proposal of the evening: rent control. She said using bonding to build affordable housing on public land is a “great idea” while the push for getting the state ban overturned goes into the “long haul.”

Progressive organizer Noel Frame (didn't fill out questionnaire)

Town hall response:

Frame didn't explicitly endorse rent control, or any other specific policy proposal for that matter, instead choosing to describe her struggles as a renter in Seattle, saying she applied for the vacant council seat because she’s “living this [the tenant’s struggle] right now.” She did say that she is “so proud to fight this fight,” which presumably means Sawant’s push for the council endorsement of rent control, or housing justice in general.

As we noted in Fizz, Frame also gave a friendly nod to rent control at her Friday afternoon interview, but did not explicitly endorse the idea.

Meanwhile, John Scholes, head of the Downtown Seattle Association, forwarded PubliCola this link to a Forbes article on Friday, "How Ironic: America's Rent-Controlled Cities Are Its Least Affordable."

It's worth reading.

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