Issue: The wave of converting rental units into condominiums may create first-time home ownership opportunities for middle-income, first-time homebuyers, but it’s reducing our rental housing stock and undermining our community’s efforts to provide enough affordable housing to end homelessness.
Background: State law bars cities from requiring relocation assistance of more than $500 for people displaced when their apartments are converted to condominiums. That amount is well below the actual cost of moving that tenants face when they are displaced. At minimum, with first and last months’ rent, damage and other deposits, plus the costs of finding and moving to another unit, it’s not uncommon for displaced tenants to pay out of pocket costs exceeding $2,500. This cost is crippling to low-income residents and retirees and may actually force a household into poverty or even homelessness.
According to data released by Dupree+Scott and Seattle officials, Seattle and King County have had so many conversions, the number exceeds new rental units being built. In other words, since 2005 we’ve seen a net decline in our rental housing stock, despite near record levels of new construction. In 2006, more than 2,300 rental units were converted to condos, up from 430 in ’04. That is a staggeringly high number, given already low vacancy rates and high rents throughout the region.
Our efforts to end homelessness are undermined when we lose rental units. Senior citizens are especially hard hit. Cities experiencing this must have the ability to mitigate the difficulty created for tenants, and to regulate how many conversions can be absorbed in their city at any one time.
House Bill 2014 and Senate Bill 5031 give cities a “local option” to require developers undertaking conversion to share more of the moving expenses and thus mitigate this enormous hardship. The bills also extend the notice that tenants receive of a pending conversion from 90 to 120 days. In cities around the region with very low vacancy rates and a near total absence of low-income units, senior citizens, low-income, and working people need the additional time in which to find a comparable unit that is close to work, in a neighborhood of their choice, the proper size, and most of all, “affordable.”
Perhaps most importantly, HB 2014 and the substitute version of SB 5031 give cities back the option to restrict the total number of conversions occurring each year. This has worked in other cities, and was used in Seattle the last time we saw a dramatic increase in conversions. The City of San Francisco, for example, allows only 200 units to be converted each year. And in Seattle in 1979, our city implemented an 18-month moratorium. Now, however, our state law ties Seattle’s hands.
Action: Contact your legislators and ask them to support House Bill 2014 and substitute Senate Bill 5031, giving cities the ability to control condo conversions. You can use the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000, or visit www.realchangenews.org and click “Take Action” to send an email to your legislators.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/02/14/feb-14-2007-entire-issue