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How Oregon’s approach to rent control could be a blueprint for Seattle

Councilmember Kshama Sawant continues her push for rent control. (City of Seattle)

The debate surrounding rent control in Seattle is one that often comes up when talking about the city’s high cost of living. It’s become one of the leading issues for Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and with Oregon recently passing rent control regulations of its own, many wonder what it would even look like in Washington state.

Sawant renews push for rent control in Seattle

For now, Seattle’s hands are tied by a statewide ban on rent control. But don’t be surprised to see the Legislature at least take a long hard look at it when the next session kicks off.

“I would be astounded if it doesn’t come back up again the next time the House and the Senate meet,” Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner told KIRO Radio’s Jim Dever.

Oregon’s own legislation could very well be used as a blueprint, too. Our southern neighbor’s measure is less a stringent rent control restriction, and more an “anti-gouging” limitation.

Rent control in its strictest form places a government-enforced limit on a pair of factors: The amount of money a landlord can charge for rent, and the amount they can charge for lease renewals. Oregon chose to focus solely on the latter, making it so landlords can’t raise rents by more than 7 percent per year plus inflation.

Gardner labels it a largely unprecedented approach that causes far fewer issues.

“It’s a something which we really haven’t seen before,” he noted. “If we look at it in … terms of a cap-to-rental-rate increase … some developers will say ‘you know perhaps it’s not for me,’ but in general it won’t be much of a problem.”

It’s with stricter measures where cities have historically run into a myriad of problems.

State lawmakers pass bill preventing mid-lease rent hikes

“If you implement real rent control, that would be massively problematic. It’s never worked — it’s failed for quite frankly the last 50 years,” said Gardner.

New York City was the first the use rent control in 1940 as a means to keeping housing costs in check. All it ultimately accomplished, though, was a downturn in new development, and building owners deferring renovations and maintenance.

That hit both landlords and renters alike, a problem Oregon’s own measure looked to solve.

“If you’re just looking (for) an anti-gouging situation, then that can be more palatable, and certainly more palatable for the renter,” Gardner described.

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