And We DISLIKE Lisa Herbold's Spin on Rent Control

A guest editorial from the Rental Housing Association of Washington

By Sean Martin August 5, 2015

Regardless of how rent control advocates label the policy—rent control or rent stabilization—the more important term that would be useful to use is “illegal”—as in state law prevents rent control from being decided locally.

In last week’s LIKES/DISLIKES guest column submitted by District One council candidate (now a primary winner) Lisa Herbold, she attempted to portray Seattle’s new rental inspections program as an achievement of legislative partnership with landlords which overcame the obstacles of Olympia to create new authority for cities to inspect rental property—thus, why not do the same with rent control?

The problem with that narrative? Well, there are a few.

A 2007 state supreme court ruling, Shaw v. Pasco, had already allowed for local municipalities to implement inspections programs without authority from the legislature. No state law existed, as it does in the case of rent control, which prohibited cities from enacting local inspections ordinances.

The 2010 state inspections legislation—SB 6459—cited by Lisa as an example of Seattle’s collaboration with landlords working in Olympia was also, in reality, no such thing. While it’s true that a stakeholder’s group which included tenants and cities was convened to create rental inspections legislation, the city of Seattle undermined that stakeholder process, and its resulting legislation (RCW 59.18.125), by passing its own blank “placeholder” ordinance prior to SB 6459 taking effect to bypass the new, negotiated state law.

The creation of Seattle’s inspections program was not conducted out of “common agreement that there was a problem” and is not a road map for removing the state ban on rent control.

One thing Lisa correctly points out, however, is that debating rent control does nothing to address present-day housing affordability issues. Appeals to fear aside—an ironic statement for her to make given that rent control advocates appeal to people’s fears of rising housing costs on a daily basis to support their political platform—RHA agrees that crafting a strategy that works for Seattle by engaging all stakeholders is a correct step forward.

In fact, such a process has already begun with HALA’s findings now available for public consumption. It should also be noted that even with 65 of 74 original recommendations receiving consensus in the group, rent control was one of the few which did not.

So, yes, engaging stakeholders is the right model for Seattle when creating housing policy. But would the city, under an elected Lisa Herbold’s leadership, respect the outcome of any negotiated housing policies? Or would she move forward on her own agenda without respect to negotiated process?

The longer rent control is used as a means of manipulating people’s fears to support failed policy, and inspiring false hope, the longer Seattle will wait for practical solutions to be enacted which will help people now.

This is precisely why RHA has chosen to endorse Shannon Braddock (the other top two winner last night), and make contributions to an independent expenditure campaign supporting her candidacy in District One. [The RHA has contributed $10,000 to an $80,000 business-backed IE supporting Braddock.]

Sean Martin is the director of external affairs for the Rental Housing Association of Washington

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