Aug 2, 2023 - Politics

Seattle City Council rejects rent control measure

Illustration of three windows on a brick wall, with Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington in them.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Seattle's City Council voted down a proposal Tuesday that sought to enact citywide rent control.

Why it matters: Rent prices in the Seattle area have outpaced inflation by a wide margin in recent years, fueling a housing affordability crisis.

Details: The rent control proposal, sponsored by City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, would have attempted to limit annual rent increases to the rate of inflation.

Yes, but: A state law dating to 1981 doesn't allow local cities to regulate what landlords can charge for rent.

  • Sawant's proposal would have taken effect only if the state Legislature decided to lift the 42-year-old ban.
  • The measure failed 6-2, with some council members expressing concerns about how the city ordinance would bump up against the statewide prohibition. Only Sawant and Councilmember Tammy Morales voted yes. (Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda didn't participate in the vote.)

What they're saying: Sawant urged the council to pass the measure to set an example for what a rent control measure should look like — and to push state legislators to change the statewide law.

  • "When Seattle's working people lead, it puts enormous pressure on the state Democrats to pass progressive change," Sawant said.

The other side: Councilmember Sara Nelson said she was voting against the proposal because she was concerned it would make it harder for landlords' rental income to keep up with their expenses.

  • That in turn could cause housing providers to sell their properties or take them off the rental market, decreasing the overall supply of housing, she argued.

What's next: The Legislature convenes for a new session in January, when it could again consider proposals to allow local rent control measures.

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