In wake of ‘right to counsel’ victory, Kshama Sawant vows to ‘accelerate’ work for rent control
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant scored a legislative victory on Monday, after the unanimous passage of a bill guaranteeing legal counsel to renters facing eviction. Now, she’s looking to use that momentum to forge ahead on a handful of other tenant rights measures, including one she’s pushed for since she first arrived on the dais: rent control.
The rent control debate in Seattle dates back years, most recently rearing its head in 2019, when Sawant introduced an expansive proposal that would have capped annual rent increases for all housing types, and restricted landlords from raising rent immediately after tenants move out.
That measure ultimately didn’t get far, but in the wake of the passage of her right to counsel bill, Sawant believes the timing may be better in 2021, with her office noting that it was “emboldened” by Monday’s win.
That saw her announcing her intention to move forward on a laundry list of renter rights measures, including a permanent moratorium on evictions of children and their families during the year, a “just cause” mandate for all evictions, a ban on using credit checks for rental applications, an extension of the city’s existing eviction moratorium, and renewed efforts for rent control.
Sawant’s office noted that it plans to “accelerate work with activists immediately” to focus on that list in the days and weeks to come.
Rent control has been illegal statewide since 1981, with opponents citing it as a factor in reducing housing supply, and driving up costs in the wake of fewer options for prospective renters. The bill introduced by Sawant in 2019 contained a stipulation stating that it would take effect retroactively in the event the Legislature voted to lift Washington’s statewide rent control ban.
In an FAQ posted to her council website, Sawant notes that there “is no legal obstacle to the Seattle City Council enacting commercial rent control right now,” pointing out that the state’s ban applies solely to residential properties.
“The only obstacle we face is the question of where there is sufficient political will on the council,” she notes.
In February 2019, Oregon became the first in the United States to enact statewide rent control.