In Light of Rising Rents, Jess Spear Explains Her Vision of Rent Control in WA

Earlier this morning reports came out that Seattle's rent has risen $94 in only half a year. That means an average apartment in town now costs $1284 a month ($1628 if you live in Ballard).

Jess Spear, the Socialist Alternative climate scientist running for the 43rd District seat of the State House, has made lifting the statewide ban on rent control one of the top issues in her campaign, on top of her push to make comprehensive green energy infrastructure in Washington a reality.

In light of today's news on this quarter's 4.1 percent rent increase in Seattle, we reached out to Jess Spear and asked her to explain her vision of rent control in the state of Washington:

The recent news that Seattle’s rents are continuing to skyrocket is not surprising. That the city council just decided to delay any new legislation to deal with the “affordable housing crisis,” is an indication that it doesn’t feel any real urgency to provide working people with relief. Again, this is not surprising, as the city and state government are controlled by politicians that are almost entirely funded by big business, including big developers like Paul Allen’s Vulcan.

Kshama Sawant has repeatedly called on the rest of the city council to take the housing crisis seriously and address it with a real sense of urgency. Like Sawant, I advocate rent control to stabilize rents across the city. However, instead of applying it to certain limited areas or buildings, we advocate for the city as a whole to enact controls to stabilize rent.

To understand our vision of what rent control would mean in Seattle, I will refer you to a statement Sawant made on rent control last year:

Rent control does not eliminate rental cost increases, but it limits the rate of increase in rents so that it is in proportion with the overall cost of living (CPI), and at an amount that is affordable to tenants. In a rent control program, the percent increase in rent would be determined by economic analysis that would include variables such as cost of living, mortgage expenses, prevailing interest rates, borrowing costs, and maintenance costs. Because of this model, rent control would still enable unit owners to keep pace with inflation and maintain housing. What it would prevent is the astronomical rate of returns to big real estate companies (something that small owners rarely receive anyway).

We can’t afford to wait for “the market” to do the job. People need affordable housing now. They're watching their rents go up astronomically before their eyes, while they're told to pay up or move out. Their lives are daily affected by this crisis and asking them to wait doesn't work. Developers are buying up land, lobbying the city to allow for increased heights, and getting handouts subsidized by taxpayers – but what they are building are expensive, posh apartments that few workers in the city can afford. We urgently need to lift the ban on rent control in Olympia and establish rental caps in Seattle. At the same time we need to tax wealthy corporations like Amazon, Starbucks, Boeing, and Microsoft to fund affordable housing projects.

For an interesteing look at how rent control has and hasn't worked internationally, check out this report on Germany's housing policies versus the UK.

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