Council members say better rental data could help preserve ‘Mom and Pop’, ‘naturally occurring affordable housing’

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Pacific Apartments courtyard, an example cited by City Council Member Alex Pedersen for “naturally occurring affordable housing.”

By Erica C Barnett

By 2017, elected officials (and reporters) hoping to get a handle on Seattle rental housing availability and costs relied on reports from a private company called Dupre+Scott, whose forecasters used cheeky videos and charts to visualize market forecasts and trends to illustrate. Since Dupre+Scott’s closure, the city has relied on census-district-level data to assess housing trends, including residential evictions — a crude, high-level tool that measures differences between neighboring neighborhoods that may be in the same census district , not considered .

Earlier this week, City Councilman Alex Pedersen introduced legislation that would require landlords to submit detailed information about their rental units — including the size of each unit, the rent they charge and whether a unit is occupied or vacant — to a research university. like the University of Washington, twice a year, and according to the city’s Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO), to certify that they have done so. The university would analyze the information and submit reports to the city, which would use it to “identify” and “inform” risks of displacement [the city’s] housing policy”, according to a personnel report On the bill.

“My interest,” continued Councilor Sara Nelson, “is to ensure that we don’t drive small landlords out of the market” by passing too many tenant protection measures that impose new requirements on landlords, such as For example, the “First in Time” law requires landlords to rent to the first qualified applicant.

The context for the proposal is the forthcoming update to the city’s comprehensive plan, which provides the framework for all of the city’s land use and zoning decisions. For example, the settlement plan could mandate the creation of additional business districts in the neighborhood, encourage zoning changes to increase density in single-family areas, or require future land-use policies that encourage the use of non-motorized transportation. Or it could promote policies that protect existing rental units at the expense of new housing, conserve trees by upholding Seattle’s ban on single-family development, or require full infrastructure (roads, sewerage, transit services) to be built before an area can be developed – a neighborhood planning concept from the 1990s known as “concurrency”.

Pedersen who was a loud opponent Allowing more density outside of existing urban villages said the city needs more accurate rental information to determine where “naturally occurring affordable housing” exists and could be at risk of demolition if the city allows denser housing in more areas. “If additional land-use changes were made without first enacting anti-eviction laws,” Pedersen said, the city could end up enacting a policy that would allow for the demolition of “affordable, below-market rental housing on Ave [in the University District] and throughout our city.” (Pedersen cited the Pacific Apartments pictured above as an example of naturally occurring affordable housing. Although the building’s website had no current listings, a 450-square-foot studio was listed for $1,200 last year).

“Naturally Affordable Housing” generally refers to older units that cost less than newer homes nearby. Proponents of laws protecting this type of housing often refer to the “grandma-and-pop landlords” who tend to own such older buildings without regard to the specific challenges faced by tenants living in these types of homes Housing living that may be less well maintained than professionally managed buildings.

Thanks to the Rental Registration Ordinance, the city has some general information about how many rental units are available each year. In 2020, according to the latest RRIO reportThe number of registered units in the city fell by about 14.4 percent, “but the total number of units remained relatively stable with a decline of only 0.65%.”

“Are landlords selling because they don’t want to comply or because property values ​​have gone through the roof and they can make money from their property like never before? It is entirely your right and if you sell your property it is your choice. However, it is not appropriate to combine this with increased tenant rights.” – Councilor Kshama Sawant

Although the report notes that registrations may have declined for a number of reasons, including landlords who have not bothered to update their renewals during the pandemic, Councilor Sara Nelson said the decline in registrations was related to the relatively small drop in housing on the market “For me it’s the small mom and pop landlords who are basically taking properties off the market.

“My interest,” continued Nelson, “is to make sure we don’t drive small landlords out of the market” by enacting too many tenant protection measures that impose new requirements on landlords, like renting to the first qualified applicant.

Councilor Kshama Sawant, who said she supports Pedersen’s legislation, resisted the idea of ​​landlords going out of business over tenant protection. “It’s a landlord requirement,” she said. “No one else says that. The reality is that real estate values ​​are skyrocketing. Are landlords selling because they don’t want to comply or because property values ​​have gone through the roof and they can monetize their property like never before? It is entirely your right and if you sell your property it is your choice. But linking it to increased tenant rights is not appropriate.”

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