Olympia Dispatch

Public Hearing on Rent Control Draws a Large Crowd from Both Sides

Rent control in Washington state has been illegal since 1981.

By Hayat Norimine January 24, 2018

Olympia state capitol ohymhe

Seattle activists headed down to Olympia yesterday to try to convince lawmakers once again to remove the state's ban on rent control. 

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday held a packed public hearing for House Bill 2583, which is sponsored by Democratic state representative Nicole Macri and would repeal state law that bans local governments to enact rent regulation. Nearly 60 people signed up to testify; another 200 (148 in favor) attended.

Advocates argue that the legislation would give cities and counties local control to address affordable housing in the way they want (through rent control, if they so choose); Xochitl Maykovich from Washington Community Action Network told committee members the state law as it stands creates a "chilling effect" on local lawmakers to make more substantial policy changes around affordable housing.

"There is an affordability crisis that is going on right now, and we need to give our local jurisdictions the ability to work on these problems and come up with solutions," said Edmund Witter, Housing Justice Project managing attorney.

The ultimate goal for Seattle activists is to have the city implement rent control. Activists have been calling for the change for years, including elected officials like socialist council member Kshama Sawant and former council member Nick Licata. But this year's bill is a long shot, considering how controversial the move would be and how short the legislative session is this year. 

Opponents say rent control would only harm the people it's intended to help by slowing down development, decreasing supply—and increasing housing costs. Economists generally agree that when there's a ceiling in rent prices, it actually causes a housing shortage and discourages developers to maintain quality in the housing that does exist. Washington state legislators in 1981 made rent control illegal. 

"Make no mistake, House Bill 2583 is not a local control bill; it is a rent control bill," said Roger Valdez, director of Seattle for Growth. "If you want to affect price, the best thing to do is not more regulation, more rules, more limitations and restrictions but more housing, more housing, more housing."

Still, far-left council members like Sawant and Lisa Herbold (a former aide to Licata) say the city has a responsibility to address its growing pains and ensure low-income, more vulnerable populations don't get displaced in the process. The city's compromise became the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, which is meant to incentivize developers to create a percentage of affordable units without depressing market-rate housing. 

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