Councilmembers Kshama Sawant  and Rob Johnnson participated in a panel discussion on how the housing crisis could be tackled.
Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Rob Johnnson participated in a panel discussion on how the housing crisis could be tackled.

Capitol Hill Housing EcoDistrict, which hosted the renter summit with the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, has been gaining momentum in organizing residents with its Renter Initiative group, formed earlier this year. Renters make up more than 80 percent of residents in Capitol Hill. 

The Renter Summit focused tackling affordability and mobility, two issues renters face daily. 

The mayor shared a story from the past week, about stepping outside to walk his dog and seeing a man wearing only a T-shirt, clearly in crisis. As he and another neighbor worked to get the man pants, another person jogged by and yelled at him to, “…clean out the homeless.”

“I think the challenge for us, and I bring this back to the issue of rent control, is how we come together as a city that can show the rest of the country that progressives do not scream at each other over issues, and that we actually can come together to come up with models that the rest of the country can use.” 

“At that point in Seattle’s history, they turned schools into condos. I don’t know if you know the two big condos on Queen Anne were the high school and elementary school. Jobs left, they went to the suburbs,” Murray said, adding he used to be able to park downtown on a weekday because there was nothing to do, and where friends were renting apartments for as little as $175 a month.

“Children came back, and today I think we would wish that we had never given the schools over to condos, because we don’t have enough places for our kids,” he said. “We needed to grow, and we created urban villages but we didn’t get a lot of things right. One of the things we didn’t get right was affordability. Literally, 90 percent of the construction that happened in most of 2014 and 2015 have been permitted years before myself and probably even my predecessor became mayor. But what we failed to build into that was a way to grow affordably.” 

Murray concluded his comments on a positive note, listing recent actions to improve conditions for renters, including the passage of renters’ protections, which prohibit landlords from increasing rents without adequate maintenance or repairs and discriminating against potential renters based on income sources. He said Seattle voters also passed the largest housing levy in Seattle’s history in August.

Upcoming legislation includes preservation of housing and limiting displacement. Licata said urban centers and villages being demolished on Capitol Hill are 52 percent nonwhite compared to 31 percent nonwhite citywide. On Tuesday, the city council committee on energy and environment chaired by Sawant considered a bill to limit move-in fees charged to renters. Murray introduced his budget for the coming year on Monday.

Sara Maxana, principal planner for the Puget Sound Regional Council, gave a briefing on affordability, saying if she sold her home tomorrow, she would get 20-25 percent above its value back because of the housing shortage and the premium on housing units, something she feels is not right. She also said the creation of HALA was one big instance where renters’ voices were not heard when compared to homeowners, suggesting the creation of a renters commission.