An ordinance that would create a Seattle Renters’ Commission that would represent the interests of more than half of the city’s households easily passed through the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods & Finance Committee Wednesday.
Members of the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative kept up their support for a renters’ commission during public comments. CHRI was born out of the first Capitol Hill Renter Summit in September, the same forum where Seattle Councilmember Rob Johnson said he heard a proposal for the renters’ commission.
“I thought that was a great idea at the time,” he said, “and it’s a real pleasure — now several months later —to have the renters’ commission proposal in front of us.”
Renters represent 80 percent of households in Capitol Hill. As clarified in a substitution ordinance Wednesday, more than 54 percent of Seattle households are renters.
CHRI organizer Caitlin Walther noted many Renter Initiative members could not take time off from work or their families on a weekday morning.
“Renters can face many barriers when it comes to participation and civic engagement,” she said. “That is why renters need a dedicated voice in city hall.”
Walther said CHRI members value community, tenants’ rights, sustainability and transit justice.
CHRI member Michael Bracy said it was his first time providing public comment to the council. He has lived in the same apartment in Capitol Hill the past 15 years, he said, his rent tripling since 2002.
“Rental properties and renters’ issues inform and affect many of the greatest challenges in front of our city council,” Bracy said, “including the homeless crisis, transportation, public health and safety, and urban development.”
He said he wants to make sure renters have a voice as Seattle continues to grow and change, and also that they’re heard.
Whitney Rearick, a current renter, former homeowner and also a former developer with the Low Income Housing Institute, said she disagrees with the Rental Housing Association of Washington’s opposition to a renters’ commission.
She said civically engaged renters are more likely to be more stable and better tenants.
“I think they’re working against their own best interest,” Rearick said.
Seattle Councilmember Tim Burgess said he doesn’t think the RHA opposes the commission.
“I think they were more looking for seats on the commission,” he said.
RHAWA spokesman Sean Martin had previously stated that the city has implemented a number of protections for renters, but landlords also need to be involved in policy changes. He asked about a “landlords’ commission.”
The 15-member Seattle Renters’ Commission was proposed to be comprised of six mayoral picks, six chosen by the council, two appointed by the commission and one reserved for a participant of Get Engaged, a YMCA program to get youth civically engaged.
Seferiana Day, legislative assistant with Councilmember Burgess’ office, updated the committee Wednesday that targeted outreach will be conducted to include representation on the commission by renters that have experienced homelessness, as recommended by the city’s Human Rights Commission. This is included in the substitute ordinance.
Johnson reiterated his desire to provide representation for commercial renters, who experience their own challenges. The councilmember heard those issues expressed during recent discussions about University District rezoning.
“It looks like that scope is probably a little broader than what we’re asking this commission to do,” he said.
The ordinance goes to the full Seattle City Council on Monday, March 20.