Seattle could be first U.S. city with 'renters' commission'

SEATTLE — Seattle could be the first city in the nation to create a formal renters’ commission, in which 15 members would represent renters and interact directly with the City Council.

The commission would ensure protective measures against discriminatory practices are working and advocate for renters when it comes to increasing rent prices or other issues.

“I think it's a great idea to have that commission,” renter Jamie Carroll said. She pointed out construction as an issue that directly affects renters.

“When traffic is routed into apartment-heavy streets, especially during the warm months when we have our windows open, there's a lot of emissions that come through,” Carroll said.

Rent went up in Seattle by about 8 percent over the past year, attracting developers but also pushing some people out of their rentals.

Councilmembers Tim Burgess, Lisa Herbold, and Mike O’Brien are proposing the idea for the commission after hearing from advocates on Capitol Hill.

“What's holding (renters) back right now from weighing in as individuals?” KIRO 7 asked.

“They could certainly do that and they do from time to time,” Burgess said. “I think what really persuaded me and my colleagues is that just over half of all Seattle households are renters…Our desire is to make sure we hear from them in a more formalized way.”

Burgess said community councils tend to be made of homeowners and renters have felt excluded over the years.

“That’s particularly true when we deal with communities of color or those struggling with poverty or LGBTQ members,” he said.

He said the council wants landlords to be successful and continue to provide apartments.

“This is not an attempt to bash landlords,” he said.

“A lot of our folks are basically saying, ‘Where's the landlord commission?’”

Sean Martin, external affairs director with the Rental Housing Association of Washington, said some landlords are frustrated, saying creating a renters’ commission is not fair to them.

“The overwhelming numbers of our membership are small landlords who own four units or less,” he said.

He pointed out that other tenant advocacy group also currently exist.

Even though the commission would be directed to work with landlord associations like RHAW, which he welcomes, he said it is still concerning.

“Does the commission turn into something where we're just dreaming up ways to punish landlords?” he said.

Martin said the city should be focusing on ways to create more housing, not more commissions.

The proposal for the commission will likely get a full City Council vote by the end of March and could be up and running by the summer.

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