The Seattle City Council this week unanimously approved an ordinance to create a citywide Renters’ Commission, a 15-member, volunteer advisory group, according to Curbed Seattle.
The commission will provide a voice for the roughly 50% of Seattle residents who rent, advising on housing-related issues including transportation, neighborhoods and affordability. All members of the public may apply, and the panel will include a cross-section of perspectives, including the formerly homeless, LGBTQ, immigrants, renters with felony records and those using rental assistance.
The council stressed that the ordinance is not “anti-landlord” but rather that it seeks to give the rental community a seat at the table. In a poll by the Seattle Channel, more than 75% of respondents supported the commission, and the majority of public testimony at council meetings was also favorable.
The creation of the Seattle Renters’ Commission comes at a time of unprecedented growth for the city, with a population explosion that is driving rapid development. Skyrocketing rental prices, fueled by new high-income earners in the tech sector, are forcing many longtime residents out of their rental homes and into a market that lacks other affordable options. Some are high-tailing it to the suburbs.
Unlike many large cities, Seattle doesn’t have a rent control ordinance (rent control is illegal throughout the state), but in recent months the city has enacted new legislation, including capped move-in fees and source-of-income protection, in an effort to ease other burdens on renters.
The Seattle Times reports that more apartments will open in Seattle over the next 10 years than in the last 50 years total. Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell told the Times that the increased supply should help slow rent growth.
Seattle isn’t alone in trying to balance the rights of property managers and renters while solving housing supply and affordability issues. The city council in Santa Barbara, CA, dealing with its own housing shortage, voted this week to create a task force made up of landlords and tenants to explore topics such as mandatory leases and just-cause evictions.
California is also weighing legislation aimed at curbing dramatic rent increases. In February, Portland, OR, passed an ordinance requiring landlords to pay a relocation fee to tenants who are evicted for no reason or whose rents are raised by more than 10%.