Seattle City Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant described a town hall meeting on April 23 as “ground zero” for the affordable housing movement.
Hosted by more than a dozen organizations, the meeting drew hundreds of people, leaving attendees spilling out of the city council chambers doorways. Many of them had a similar story: Rising rents in Seattle are disastrous.
Public attendees and sponsors both shared stories of once-homeless renters returning to the streets, of families giving up homes and of full-time work no longer covering the cost of living.
Licata and Sawant unveiled one possible solution earlier in the day: A resolution — not yet formally proposed to the council — that urges the Washington State Legislature to lift the state ban on rent regulation, or rent control. The ban prevents the city from being able to enact, maintain or enforce ordinances or other provisions that regulate rent, with the exception of public housing. They said lifting the ban would return the control of rent to the people, not the state, changing the idea of housing from a commodity to a human right.
“We want to clearly send the message ... that we want to repeal the ban,” Licata said of the resolution. “And we want Housing and Urban Development to do an analysis as to whether or not the ban on rent control in this state is consistent with the state’s obligation to provide affirmative action in providing fair housing.”
Sawant said there was no date for the formal proposal of the resolution, only promising that it would be in the near future.
Speakers at the meeting also proposed ideas for ways to extend tenant rights. Six months’ notice prior to rent increases, one-for-one replacement of demolished affordable housing and relocation services for people who are moving due to rent increases were among the proposals.
Residents from the Nickelsville tent encampment, another sponsor of the event, were also in attendance, hoisting signs that read, “More rent = more homeless people.”
Kitty DeBerry has been a Nickelsville resident for 2 1/2 years. During that time, she said she’s moved around five times.
“This impacts me,” DeBerry said. “One of the reasons I’m homeless is I can’t afford market-rate rent.”
She said the resolution proposed by Licata and Sawant to lift the ban on rent control is a good start.
“The biggest problem with this is that it’s not going to be retroactive,” she said. “How am I — who can’t currently make it into the job market — supposed to afford housing?”
Licata and Sawant believe that lifting the ban is a step toward decreasing homelessness.
“Homelessness is not a separate phenomenon from the crisis of affordability,” Sawant said. “Homelessness is a by-product of a brutal system.”
A system which includes, among other things, a lack of affordable quality housing.
The two-hour meeting concluded at around 8 p.m. with the chant: “Why are we here? Why do we fight? Housing is a human right!”