On September 21, 2015, the Seattle City Council adopted a resolution calling on the Washington State Legislature to repeal its ban on rent control. This rent control resolution is a huge victory for our grassroots movement for housing affordability. Thirty five years after the state legislature sold out to big landlords by banning all rent regulation, the City Council has been forced to take a historic action, officially urging the repealing of the ban.
If this resolution gets a majority vote, and it looks like it’s going to be voted on unanimously, then I will welcome this as a huge victory for our movement – our grassroots movement for housing affordability.
But let’s be clear: The majority of the Council has been in office for years, and has shown nothing but inaction on really urgent issues like housing affordability. Housing affordability is not a new issue that has come up in the last two years. It has been growing to critical proportions, and action on this has been long overdue.
So the question to ask to our movement is, “Why is this happening now?” It’s happening now because we, our movement, has brought pressure to bear. And we have done this by being unrelenting in our message.
We fought for $15/hour, and we have gone on now to begin our fight for housing affordability. We have held town hall after town hall on, not just the broader question of affordable housing, but what are the actual policies that will solve this crisis.
We have discussed the importance of the Council passing a robust residential and commercial linkage fee with no phase-in to make big developers pay for affordability in this city.
We have talked about the need to use the city’s bonding capacity to build thousands of units of affordable housing each year. City-owned housing. We’ve talked about strengthening tenants’ rights.
And we’ve talked about how, regardless of how much the city builds, unless we have a policy to reign in the skyrocketing rents because of speculating investment by enacting rent control, we will not have solved this crisis in another ten year’s time.
And we had a debate in Town Hall where a thousand people came, and spoke with one voice on Rent Control. If you all remember, we debated the real estate lobby and the right wing on the question of rent control. But they had no arguments, except scaremongering, mythology, and condescension towards us.
And our movement has grown so much that we have this interesting situation where, just days ago, some Councilmembers vehemently opposed to the resolution brought forward by Councilmember Licata and me. Substantively, regardless of what they say, the new resolution does the same as the one from Councilmember Licata and me – which is, that it urges the state legislature to repeal or modify RCW 35.21.830, that’s the ban on rent regulation.
And I wonder if the same Councilmembers are now going support this one? And I frankly don’t care whose name shows up, officially, as the initiator of the resolution.
Because I know that, regardless of whose name appears, the real initiator of this has been our movement.
Regardless of the names, the passage of this resolution will end up empowering our movement. And, if it passes, it’s a clear sign that our movement can influence the Council – even a Council, the majority of whom take money from big developers, and have shown inaction for years.
It shows that in order to get good things done, we need strong movements.
There is a very important indication here that we should empower ourselves with: This is happening because the real estate lobby is really scared that there is momentum on rent control.
They knew that they could not stop this resolution, one way or another. And they have used other methods to bring this forward. But what they would really want – and this is where we need to be clear – what the Rental Housing Association, and the real estate lobby, and the big developers want, is that this resolution be passed, because there’s no way out of passing it, and that it just sinks into oblivion.
We cannot let that happen. We want to use the victory of today to build our movement further, so that we do take the fight to Olympia – that is precisely what we have to do.
But we cannot rely on politicians who take money from big developers to build that movement, we have to do that ourselves.
And lastly, I want to say, people have been here for lifting the ban on rent control and also for the zero youth detention for young people – we should be joining the movement for racial justice with the movement for housing justice. Because housing unaffordability is an issue of racial and gender justice. Housing unaffordability affects people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and women the hardest.
So let’s build on these victories today, and build a real movement for housing justice.