It's Time to Fact-Check the RHA's Stance on Housing Issues

City council candidate Lisa Herbold's housing affordability platform includes allowing Seattle to make local decisions about rent control.

By Lisa Herbold August 7, 2015

I hoped for a day to decompress after a rewarding yet hectic primary. However, my campaign’s success in the primary has apparently made the Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHA) antsy—even more than before the primary when they contributed $10,000 of $84,000 in independent expenditure funds to support my opponent, who also shares their perspective that Seattle housing laws should be decided in Olympia.

Wednesday's PubliCola guest editorial from Sean Martin, RHA’s Director of External Affairs, criticized my position on rent regulations. The RHA is funded and directed by rental housing landlords, not renters. As noted by Working Washington, the RHA sued to strike down a 1980's version of the city’s rental inspection program that we have now, opposes state legislation to make tenant screening reports affordable for prospective renters, and opposed even our city’s new minimum wage.

The RHA’s focus on efforts to petition the state to lift its rent regulation ban is a red herring meant to appeal to the fears of Seattle’s residents about the strictest forms of rent control. It also presents the larger question: if repealing the rent control ban is so unlikely to pass the state legislature, as the RHA assumes, why are they so fearful of the city expressing its desire to exercise some local control about our rent laws?

Maybe it is because so many Seattle residents do want their city to have flexibility in dealing with its own issues, rather than being handcuffed by the state. Or maybe it’s because a majority of the city council supports lifting the ban, and the RHA worries that if it does not act now, it might be too late.

In criticizing my position, Mr. Martin wrote that supporting removal of the state’s ban on rent regulations would cause Seattle to “wait for practical solutions to be enacted,” rather than helping our renters now. This is selective memory. As you may have seen, I was the only candidate in my race to sign onto a plan late last month that would help address rental affordability in the very near term, including the passage of a residential linkage fee this fall.

As it relates to the history of SB 6459, crafted by landlord and tenant stakeholders, Mr. Martin knows that RCW 59.18.125 places limits on a municipality’s ability to enact rental inspections. Yes, the lawsuit Mr. Martin cited created a path for future inspection programs, but SB 6459 clarified the legislative authority, which was also a necessary step in the process.

In April 2015, Mr. Martin told MyBallard, “We felt that the City and DPD were very inclusive of rental housing owners and managers throughout the establishment of [the inspection program]. We appreciated having a seat at the table.” Yet yesterday Mr. Martin had a different take, saying Seattle’s ordinance “undermined the stakeholder process” and took “effect to bypass the new, negotiated state law.” It is more complicated than that; Seattle’s program, by law, must comply by the state statute that landlords and tenant advocates worked together to pass. RHA also participated in the several month long stakeholder process that led to the resulting Seattle program.

Mr. Martin asks whether I would be able to compromise, writing, “[W]ould the city, under an elected Lisa Herbold’s leadership, respect the outcome of any negotiated housing policies?” The short answer is yes, of course; I would obviously be one of nine City Councilmembers collaborating to create a better Seattle.

The longer answer is yes, look at my record. For instance, in 2011, social justice advocates, unions, health care workers, local businesses and I worked together in support of paid sick and safe days for 180,000 Seattle workers. A strong policy stance need not preclude a councilmember’s ability to negotiate and compromise. I’ve seen it in action eight hours per day for almost two decades working for Councilmember Licata, and I’m ready to do it myself if I am elected.

Interestingly, Mr. Martin’s editorial uses the word “fear” multiple times, suggesting that affordability advocates are playing on “people’s fears of rising housing costs … to support their political platform.” Rising housing costs are not a “fear,” but a “reality.” People who have lived in Seattle all their lives are being effectively evicted due to rising rents, forced to relocate themselves, their possessions, and their families. Some even become homeless due to the rapid rise in housing costs.

Candidates like myself advocating for lifting the state’s ban on rent regulations to allow our city to democratically consider its options are not “appealing to people’s fears,” but rather attempting to solve a critical problem.

I am committed to bringing all stakeholders to the table, but I am also committed to fighting for everyday West Seattle and South Park residents without the deep bank accounts of the RHA. That said, for such a dialogue to occur should I be elected this fall, it is my hope that Mr. Martin and the RHA will also be willing to compromise, rather than fighting progressive policy at every turn.

Lisa Herbold is an aide to city council member Nick Licata. She is running in the November election for the West Seattle District One city council seat.

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