And by “explore” they really mean “implement.”
From Seattle Times: The Seattle City Council on Monday voted unanimously to create what is believed to be the nation’s first renters’ commission, which will push laws to help a growing group that makes up 54 percent of all households yet has a weak voice in City Hall.
As rents have skyrocketed across Seattle and long-time tenants have been priced out, advocates for renters have said it was a constituency that hasn’t been heard as a unified group.
Renters could individually contact council members, or take time off work or school to come to a daytime meeting. But they had nowhere near the organized clout of homeowners — who had long dominated city-sanctioned neighborhood groups to push politicians on their agendas — or landlords, who pool money for lobbyists and opposed the renters’ commission.
The 15-member group of renters will meet regularly and pass their ideas directly to City Council members who make laws, and to other officials who help shape and enforce them.
“To renters, your life and your voice matters and the City Council affirmed that today,” said Zachary DeWolf, who first proposed the commission idea and is president of the Capitol Hill Community Council.
The new commission is mandated to seek out members of long-marginalized communities to sit on the volunteer board, such as immigrants, low-income residents, felons, those who have been homeless and members of the LGBTQ community. The average Seattle renter earns about half of what a homeowner makes, and is disproportionately more likely to be a person of color.
The commission itself won’t have any direct power, but it will provide a direct line to City Hall for a constituency that historically has had a very difficult time organizing.
The commission will set its own agenda after the group is formed. Among the hot topics its members are likely to wade into are the pace of apartment construction, laws to protect tenants from being evicted, Airbnb and other rental services, and rent control — which is illegal statewide.
They’ll also be required to help make sure that existing laws to protect tenants are actually enforced, including a new regulation to cap move-in fees, and a first-come, first-served application process for tenants that landlords are suing over.
Even with the very topic of renter civic engagement on the agenda at Monday’s council meeting, only a handful of renters showed up.
“We’re busying working to pay off rising rents in this city, we don’t have time to come to City Council meetings,” said Mathew Ellenberger, a University of Washington student who spoke at the meeting. He lamented that when he began renting here two years ago, he had no clear, central resources to figure out basic things like what to pay for a security deposit.
Landlord groups opposed the commission, saying it was unfair to give renters a special line to City Hall when most legislation pits the interest of renters against landlords. Property owners say rising property taxes have all but forced them to raise rents, and they fear further regulations would make their situation even harder.
Sean Martin, a spokesman for the Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents landlords, says it’s disingenuous to say renters’ voices aren’t being heard when several pro-renter laws have passed in recent years. “Right now, tenant advocates, anything they throw against the wall, it sticks,” Martin said.
Martin said landlords asked for non-voting positions on the commission but the city didn’t include that in its plans.
Councilman Tim Burgess spearheaded the legislation to create the commission and found co-sponsors in Council members Lisa Herbold, Mike O’Brien and Debora Juarez. Mayor Ed Murray will sign the bill, his office said.
Read the rest of the story here.