KTTH OPINION

Rantz: Seattle housing activist claims ‘mom and pop’ is ‘racist dog whistle’

Dec 11, 2023, 5:55 PM

Seattle housing racism...

(MyNorthwest file photo, courtesy of AP)

(MyNorthwest file photo, courtesy of AP)

A Seattle housing activist upset with landlords pushing back at hostile legislation claims that the phrase “mom and pop” is racist and heteronormative.

Left-wing housing activist Katie Wilson penned a piece for a local blog to dispute commentary from independent landlords who said they’re taking property off the market because Seattle housing policies are too onerous. It’s part of the fight waged by radicals who dispute personal property rights, insisting that “housing is a human right.”

But in order to win the argument, the Radical Left must demonize their opponents.

Corporate landlords don’t elicit much empathy and are easy to make the enemy. But so-called “mom and pop” landlords, which make up the majority of landlords in the area, have support. And it’s why we’re suddenly being told that the very term “mom and pop” is actually a “racist dog whistle.”

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Everything is racist

Who you trust in the housing wars likely depends on your ideology.

Housing activists claim industry groups complain about the regulations as a means to get rid of them, at the expense of protecting renters. Industry groups contend the data verifies their position.

In the blog Publicola, Wilson claimed that there’s “a strong racial undercurrent to the ‘mom-and-pop” narrative.” The contrived argument stems from landlord pushback to two specific laws that force a landlord to end blanket refusals to rent to applicants with criminal records and to rent to the first qualified applicant.

Citing Michele Thomas, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (LIHI), the term “mom and pop” is defined as what Wilson calls a “racist dog whistle.”

“I really do think the image it invokes is a heterosexual white older couple, and they’re trying to say, ‘Think about these people and think about who a tenant is, and who do you think needs protection?'”

What a stretch

If you think the claim “mom and pop” is racist (and heteronormative, apparently) is a stretch, it’s because it is.

Wilson, who professionally argues for anti-landlord legislation, previously argued that we shouldn’t even care if mom-and-pop landlords are selling their properties. She argued against “a policy goal to maintain a thriving and happy class of ‘mom and pop’ landlords.”

Wilson’s position seems to hinge on the fact that landlord complaints are mostly tied to the regulations meant to prevent racial discrimination, which she calls “systemic.”

To Radical Left housing activists, especially white ones eager to play White Knight, only “black or brown” people are felons and hurt by the regulations. Wilson writes that black and brown renters “carry… baggage, like past evictions or a criminal history, that make it harder to compete in a tight rental market,” citing a 2018 study.

Thus, if a landlord who happens to be white argues they should be able to disqualify a felon in favor of a high-paid Amazon employee who will be, objectively, more likely to be a model tenant, it’s racist.

And since Seattle landlords are majority white, housing activists believe black and brown applicants could never be seen as the most qualified to landlords.

What’s on the line

Activists can no more afford to lose this battle than they can a studio apartment on Capitol Hill. There’s legislation on the line.

Radical Left housing activists are waging an ideological war on private property rights, but can’t advance legislation in the fact of sympathetic landlords just trying to make a living. They are less sympathetic by pretending they’re racist.

Demonization is a much easier tactic than using the data to bolster activists’ points, especially since the data isn’t on their side. Ironically, their policies are leading to more larger, corporate-owner housing units and fewer mom-and-pop-managed units.

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Data shows mom-and-pop properties decreasing

Seattle has experienced a notable decline in rental properties. Obviously, not every landlord who leaves the market is leaving due to regulations. But to pretend it’s not, at least in part, courtesy of overly-stringent landlord regulations is willfully ignorant.

Seattle has lost nearly 3,000 rental properties between May of last year and January of 2022. Those properties constitute roughly 10,000 units in total. And, over a four-year period, the share of small rental properties (defined as landlords owning no more than 20 units) in Seattle dropped by 14%, resulting in a loss of over 4,000 units.

The City of Seattle data backs up the claims, noting fewer single-family and small rental properties on the market. These are properties more likely to be mom-and-pop-owned, and the decreases correspondent to Seattle passing onerous regulations on landlords.

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The lazy way to win an argument

In her Publicola piece, Wilson offers theories to explain the trend. Notably, they all dismiss any possibility that regulations are pushing people out.

If she can get over their apparent racism, Wilson might want to talk to actual mom-and-pop landlords. Anecdotally, landlords speaking to The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH have said they have taken their properties off the market (or are about to) thanks to the onerous rules. But why talk to the people who might present data in conflict with a housing agenda?

To erode support, and to dissuade the public from using “mom and pop” landlords to reject onerous housing regulations if it comes up for a vote, the very term is being labeled a “racist dog whistle.”

And if you can take “mom and pop” out of the arguments, the focus is on either generic “landlords” or the assumption is the debate only focuses on corporations. That’s much easier to win, especially when data isn’t necessarily in your favor.

Listen to The Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

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Rantz: Seattle housing activist claims ‘mom and pop’ is ‘racist dog whistle’