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2024 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference

Leaders seek rent stabilization, affordable housing

Terri Anderson, Duaa-Rahemaah Hunter, Ben Stuckart

In a workshop on housing, Terri Anderson of the Tenants Union of Washington, Duaa-Rahemaah Hunter of the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance (WILHA) and Ben Stuckart of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium (SLIHC) discussed proposals for rent stabilization and affordable housing.

"We have a tenants hotline, and offer workshops and clinics for tenant empowerment.We talk every day with renters and know their concerns," said Terri, noting that tenants need to keep up with changes to laws.

"We organize tenants, especially in HUD Section 8 buildings, to form tenants' associations to know their protections. Organizing often gets tenants results," she said.

Ben said SLIHC's point of view is that rent stabilization and tenants' rights are important, and "we also have to build low-income housing for people."

There were rent stabilization bills in the House and Senate. The Senate bill that first said landlords could not raise rent over 5 percent in a year came out of committee with a 15 percent limit. A 10-year exemption for new builds was raised to 15 years. Ben asked why pass a law, if it is gutted.

"A rent stabilization bill that allows a 15 percent increase gutted Spokane's supply," said Ben, adding that increases since 2017 led to a 50 percent increase in three years. "When rents increase, homelessness increases. People can't afford a home."

"If we pass a rent stabilization bill that allows 15 percent increases a year, that's 45 percent in three years, an outrageous amount." he asserted.

Terri said about 50 percent of Spokane's population are renters, and there is a racial imbalance between renters and homeowners. In Washington, 68 percent of Black households rent, and 45 percent of white households rent. In Spokane, 81 percent of Black households rent and 31 percent of white households rent.

Beyond a 40 percent increase in rents from 2014 to 2019, rents skyrocketed during COVID, leaving Spokane with the highest rent increases in the nation, Terri said, explaining, "We have a shortage of affordable housing."

Duaa-Rahemaah added that what some consider affordable is not affordable for someone on a fixed income.

Terri said the standard Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets for affordability is 30 percent of one's monthly income. 

"That's the standard we would like to see but that's not what most tenants pay. In one senior building, the average tenant pays about 70 percent of their monthly income in rent. 

"We also do not have a state law that says a landlord can only raise rent if they provide livable housing. Many tenants live in sub-standard housing with no improvements or repairs, but still face rent increases," Terri said.

Ben said more BIPOC renters live in areas zoned multi-family, such as East and West Central.

"They are red-lined neighborhoods," Duaa-Rahemaah said.

Ben said Spokane now allows four-plexes in single-family zones, but 77 percent of Spokane is still zoned for single families.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March 2024