More homes are coming! With the passage of HB 1110, the city will be upzoned to allow for four-plexes and six-plexes in most places (unless you live in Broadmoor or another wealthy neighborhood with an HOA). This upzone will mean that the market will play a huge role in deciding when and where this density occurs, and home values—alongside rents—will likely increase in some neighborhoods as a result of speculation.
I, for one, don’t trust the market alone to make these decisions in a way that is equitable. In addition to upzoning the places that are exempt under HB 1110, I also would propose that we renew the fight for rent control.
As we all know, skyrocketing rents have led to widespread displacement and homelessness, and it is time for our city leaders to take bold action to protect renters and ensure that everyone has access to safe, affordable housing. HB 1110 is state legislation that effectively eliminates and replaces all of Seattle’s exclusive single-family zoning. While that upzoning will be necessary if we are going to create the 200,000 new homes that I am committed to creating, this upzone puts less wealthy communities, and communities of color, at increased risk of displacement.
It’s a well-known practice to increase rent on tenants to force them out when they cannot be evicted otherwise, so that landlords can sell to developers at a higher price. While more homes are needed and some properties will need to be redeveloped, we cannot allow the market to force BIPOC persons, or less wealthy persons, out of what is likely the last of the somewhat affordable housing in our city.
This brings us to rent control. Rent control is one of several strategies that we will need to employ to prevent and limit displacement of our communities of color. It is a proven strategy that has been successfully implemented in many other cities across the country and it is time for us to follow suit. Unfortunately, Washington state law currently prohibits rent control, which means that until state law is changed, we will be unable to enact such a plan. The good news is that I am prepared to do this work, and am already in conversation with state legislators to make this happen in the next legislative session.
Once on city council, my plan is to pass a “trigger law” for rent control in Seattle. Meanwhile, I will be working with our delegation to the State Legislature to allow Seattle to enact this law, adding one more tool to the city’s toolbox. This way, we will ensure that renters are protected from excessive rent increases and that everyone has access to safe, affordable housing.
It is also important to note that rent control is not a one-size-fits-all policy. There are many different models of rent control that can be tailored to meet specific needs and adapted to avoid mistakes other cities have made in the past. For example, some rent control policies may only apply to older buildings, some may act as “rent stabilization,” where there is a low, single-digit-percentage limit on rent increases relative to existing rent, while others may include exemptions for small landlords or affordable housing developments. I will work closely with community members and experts to design rent control policies that take into account the unique needs and characteristics of our city.
I am aware that there are many arguments against rent control, citing what might happen if rent control were to be enacted, but we know full well what WILL happen if we don’t act. With the partnership of community leaders, I know we can create the sorely needed homes and protect our communities of color so that they, too, can benefit from the Seattle we hope to build in the decades to come.
We cannot burden our BIPOC communities (once again) with the growth that is coming. I believe that we at the city level must act swiftly to upzone the neighborhoods directed in HB 1110, as well as enact a modern version of rent control. Our city must address the current housing crisis and to protect renters from displacement and homelessness. I am committed to pushing for changes to Washington state law and city ordinance that would allow us to implement rent control policies that will work for our city. Together, we can ensure that everyone in our community has access to safe, affordable housing, and that no one is forced out of their home due to skyrocketing rents.
Efrain Hudnell is an attorney and urbanist running for Seattle City Council District 3 who currently works to increase community safety, address underlying issues of defendants with mental health issues, and reduce recidivism of veterans at King County’s Mental Health Court as a Deputy Prosecutor. In addition to his work at King County, Efrain is the outgoing Executive Director of Seattle Subway, a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting high quality transit for Seattle and the Puget Sound Region.