Seattle creates nation's first renters' commission

Seattle creates nation's first renters' commission

Seattle creates nation's first renters' commission

A Seattle Renters’ Commission, the first of its kind in the country, could begin meeting to discuss issues facing more than half of the city’s households by early summer.

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved the commission’s formation on Monday, March 20, after the ordinance easily passed through the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods & Finance Committee last Wednesday.

CHRI was born out of the first Capitol Hill Renter Summit in September, the same forum where Seattle Councilmember Rob Johnson said he heard a proposal for the renters’ commission. Roughly 80 percent of the trendy central Seattle neighborhood's population rents housing.

“I thought that was a great idea at the time,” he said during a committee meeting one week prior to the vote. “It’s a real pleasure — now several months later — to have the renters’ commission proposal in front of us.”

CHRI member Michael Bracy said it was his first time providing public comment to the council — first during the committee meeting and again before the full council Monday. He has lived in the same apartment in Capitol Hill the past 15 years, he said, his rent tripling since 2002.

“Rental properties and renters’ issues inform and affect many of the greatest challenges in front of our city council,” Bracy said, “including the homeless crisis, transportation, public health and safety, and urban development.”

He said he wants to make sure renters have a voice as Seattle continues to grow and change, and also that they’re heard.

Alex Brennan, a CHRI organizer and senior planner with Capitol Hill Housing, urged the city council to make Seattle the first city in the country to have a renters’ commission, which would provide better representation and a voice for residents that are not always at the table.

“Go to any meeting and you’ll see very few of us included,” he said. “The renters’ commission can change that.”

Brennan said CHRI has been focused on a number of issues of importance to the community, including tenant rights, dedicated bike lanes, transit justice, safe drug consumption sites and the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.

University of Washington student Matthew Ellenberger said he moved to Seattle two years ago from Yakima.

“When I came here, I didn’t really know how to deal with renting,” he said, including deposits and general practices for becoming a renter. “I believe a renters’ council will help support people like me who are new to the city and people who are already here.”

The 15-member Seattle Renters’ Commission was proposed to be comprised of six mayoral picks, six chosen by the council, two appointed by the commission and one reserved for a participant of Get Engaged, a YMCA program to engage youth in civics.

Seferiana Day, legislative assistant with Councilmember Tim Burgess’ office, said targeted outreach will be conducted to include representation on the commission by renters that have experienced homelessness, as recommended by the city’s Human Rights Commission.

Burgess said the Department of Neighborhoods will provide staff support for the renters’ commission, and outreach and the application process is expected to begin in April, with the hope of starting meetings in early summer.

“This is truly a grassroots effort that started on Capitol Hill, and now will benefit all of Seattle,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the Capitol Hill Times.