A funny things happened Aug. 3 when four developers were telling state legislators not to regulate Seattle’s booming business of converting apartments to condos. One of them said that it was builders who caused the current condo rush to begin with.
Thanks to all the poorly built condos whose owners filed lawsuits in the 1990s, many developers stopped building condos. At the same time, interest was so low, a developer told state representatives who met in Seattle, that apartments emptied as renters bought homes.
So, between 2000 and 2005, few condos and apartments were built – resulting in the pent-up demand that’s driving today’s condo conversion rush, which Seattle developer Joe McCarthy and Adrienne Quinn, director of the Seattle Office of Housing, denied is driving low-income renters out of the city.
That was some of the amazing testimony given to the House Housing Committee, which held a hearing at Seattle’s City Hall on condo conversion and whether the Legislature should do anything about it. Last year, City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of City Council’s Housing Committee, championed a state bill that would have allowed cities to cap the annual number of conversions, stop developers from starting construction until the last tenant was out, and force them to pay tenants more in moving assistance.
Developers gutted the bill, but later denied it anyway. The Aug. 3 hearing was the first swing at getting lawmakers’ attention for next year, but they face confusing claims – one of which is whether the conversion craze has peaked or not.
Data presented from rental market consultants Dupre & Scott indicate condo conversions peaked in 2005 and 2006 and continue to slow. John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition disagreed, saying the conversions, which the city reports have turned 5,263 Seattle units into condos since January 2004 – including 930 in the first half of this year – are continuing unabated.
Whatever the numbers, said Bill Kirlin-Hackett with the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, “One economic class of tenants and residents is being replaced by another.”