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July 26, 2013

Which Seattle Mayoral Candidates are Pro-Tenant?

We collected questions from our members, tenants, and our Board of Directors and sent surveys to all of the Seattle Mayoral Candidates to learn their positions on tenants’ rights. Each candidate was asked to keep it brief for the first seven Yes/No/Maybe questions and allowed longer answers for the final two.

“Yes” answers are pro-tenant, “Maybe” answers are in-between, and “No” are not supportive to tenants concerns.

Update: Post-primary elections resulted in Mike McGinn (incumbent) and Ed Murray running in the final vote in November.

The following candidates, in no specific order, answered with the most pro-tenant “Yes” answers. Each checked “Yes/No/Maybe” exactly the same:
Peter Steinbrueck (6 Yes, 1 Maybe)
Mike McGinn (6 Yes, 1 Maybe)
Ed Murray (6 Yes, 1 Maybe)
Joey Gray (6 Yes, 1 Maybe)

The following candidates answered yes to less then 6 questions:
Mary Martin (4 Yes, 3 Maybe)
Kate Martin (5 Yes, 2 No)

Bruce Harrell, Charlie Staadecker, and Douglas McQuaid did not respond to the tenant questionnaire.

Question One: Seattle rents are skyrocketing, in some areas with average increases over 8%. Low income and working class people can rarely afford to live in the neighborhoods where they work. This has negative impacts on the environment as it forces more people to commute longer distances in their cars. Would your administration strengthen existing zoning laws to require developers to build more affordable housing in the city?

Peter Steinbrueck: (Yes) The current spike in rental rates mirrors the upward pressure on home and condominium prices. One of our biggest challenges is finding ways to maintain a stock of affordable housing. It has been one of my priorities for 15 years. In 2006, with stiff opposition, I wrote and passed legislation that nearly doubled the amount of money developers are required to pay into a downtown affordable housing fund in return for extra condominium heights. On the Seattle City Council I was a leader in advocating for affordable housing, and as Mayor, I will continue to push for a variety of housing types and affordability to help meet needs of people in all stages and walks of life.

Mike McGinn: (Yes) I believe we need to periodically evaluate and improve the city’s affordable housing tools so that we can build more affordable units across the city. Last February, I announced the Seattle Housing Strategy, a plan to guide the City’s work in promoting new housing, including affordable housing. I also announced the creation of an advisory committee that is recommending updates to the city’s incentive programs for affordable housing, including the Multi Family Tax Exemption and the Incentive Zoning program. With the advice of this committee, I will amend the Incentive Zoning program in 2014. Next year the city will also begin a major update to our Comprehensive Plan, including updating the Housing Element. As a part of this effort, I plan to look at other tools the city uses or could use to increase production of affordable housing.

Ed Murray: (Yes) If we want to stabilize rents, we must increase the affordable housing stock in the city. Particularly with the city expected to grow significantly, we must keep pace with demand. We’ve already seen gentrification occurring in the CD and Rainer Valley, and it’s important we take measures, such as strengthening zoning laws, to ensure people of all income levels are able to prosper in place.

Joey Gray: (Yes) Existing “in lieu of” fees paid by developers opting out of affordable housing requirements are inadequate for supplying the funds the city would need to replace affordable housing being lost. For example, you know that in the South Lake Union rezone, the current mayor’s initial proposal, which was approximately what Seattle has required for upzones in recent years, was that developers pay $15.15 per net square foot. Councilmember Licata’s proposal, which would have funded the affordable housing needed, was $120 nsf and Councilmember O’Brien’s proposal, adopted, raised it to $22 nsf; still far less than what’s needed to keep pace with the loss of affordable housing, let alone to add to the affordable housing. We need consistent process, resident voices to be respected from day one, and to increase the inventory of affordable housing.

Mary Martin: (Maybe) We would encourage a movement of working people to demand that rents be stabilized. As long as housing is a commodity it will be difficult to control what landlords do unless we make a fight of it. After the Cuban Revolution, a law was passed that no working family had to pay any more than 10% of their incomes for rent. Ultimately we will need a revolution in the U.S. but along the way we can fight for lower rents and more housing for working people.

Kate Martin: (Yes) I will also promote Non-Profit Real Estate Investment Trusts to gain more affordable housing, commercial spaces and artists spaces. I think affordable housing has to be integrated into mixed income neighborhoods and not concentrated. The poor monocultures we’ve created are not sustainable, healthy or safe.

Question Two: The definition of “affordable” housing can be very broad. The City recently passed an ordinance to build more affordable housing in South Lake Union for people earning 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). However, a single adult in that category could earn up to $45,000/year. In contrast, a worker earning minimum wage earns about $18,000/year, placing this definition of “affordable” out of reach. Would you advance policies for affordable housing options for low-wage workers or people earning 60% AMI or below?

Peter Steinbrueck: (Yes) As your question notes, “affordable housing” means different things to people. As I mentioned in my first response, the deepest challenge we have is finding ways to preserve the affordable housing stock that we now have, and expanding it as the city grows. The magnitude of this challenge is revealed in recent rental statistics: the average 1-bedroom apartment now rents for more than $1,250, and larger units are of course higher. ( ). Minimum wage earners have to work two jobs to cover rent. Very few people at the lowest income levels can afford that rent, and without supportive policies, those workers will be priced out of the community. Increasing affordable housing was my priority as a city council member and will continue when I am mayor. There are many opportunities to increase affordable housing in every neighborhood, with housing that fits with the neighborhood character.

Mike McGinn: (Yes) Seattle needs policy tools to address housing needs across the spectrum of income and family sizes. There are substantial unmet needs for housing affordable to individuals and families earning incomes from 100% AMI all the way down to below 30% AMI. I believe we need tools to address that full spectrum of need. That said, families in the lower income brackets often struggle the most to find available housing that they can afford within the city. Tools like the City’s Housing Levy play a critical role in continuing to build units that are affordable to people earning less than 60% AMI. I will work to renew the Housing Levy in 2016. I will also look at ways to improve existing policy tools and add new policy tools to further incentivize production of units for people earning less than 60% AMI.

Ed Murray: (Yes) This is a sensible thing to do. I would like to see us increase the size of the housing levy – the bulk of the funds from that level go to generating housing for those earning significantly less than the medium. We need to encourage the construction of workforce housing as well – that can be done through zoning requirements and other incentives.

Joey Gray: (Yes) According to my staff, this was another of Councilmember Licata’s original SLU rezone proposals – to aside half the SLU incentive zoning housing for 60-80% of Area Median Income (AMI). Similarly, the Seattle Housing Authority, whose original charter is to serve people below 30% of AMI, has increasingly been developing its housing for either 80+% or market rate. For example, only 10% of the new Yesler Terrace units will be for 30% AMI, with over half at market rate. The 60-80% segment is badly underserved right now by both the open market and by city or subsidized housing.

Mary Martin: (Yes) Same as above. As long as housing is based on profits not human needs, working people will continue to get exploited.

Kate Martin: (Yes)

Question Three: It is estimated that over 27,000 people live in unhealthy or unsafe substandard housing in Seattle. Recently the city passed a Rental Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) to identify substandard properties and bring them up to code. In time the program will pay for itself through property owner registration fees but will require initial start-up costs. Will your administration fully resource the RRIO program to ensure that all Seattle renters can live in a safe and healthy home?

Peter Steinbrueck: (Yes) Everyone deserves a safe and healthy home. I feel so strongly about this, at my last Seattle City Council meeting I worked with Councilman Nick Licata to sponsor a resolution and funding to study the possibility of a rental-housing inspection program. As Mayor, I will work to find resources to make sure rental properties are identified, inspected and up to code.

Mike McGinn: (Yes) I believe it is important to ensure that all city residents have a safe and decent place to live. That’s why my administration worked to quickly pass legislation enabling the RRIO program within a very short window of opportunity after the state legislature passed a law restricting the ability of municipalities to inspect rental housing. The fees charged through the new RRIO program are intended to cover the full costs of operating the program, including start-up. In the initial start-up period, Department of Planning and Development reserve funds will cover costs, with the expectation that they will be paid back within the first 5 years of the program through fees.

Ed Murray: (Yes) Too often tenants are unknowingly taken advantage of by malicious or negligent landlords looking to cut costs. People have a right to safe housing, and my administration would fully resource the RRIO program so that it can accomplish what it set out to do.

Joey Gray: (Yes) It is essential to protect residents from unhealthy, unsafe substandard housing, especially the most vulnerable among us, who are most likely to find themselves with few, if any, good housing options. It’s also important to ensure that processes like RRIO are streamlined, efficient and well-integrated with other important protections, in order to keep the cost and time requirements reasonable for both landlords and government.

Mary Martin: (Maybe) Landlords need to pay to upgrade their units. If they can not make a safe healthy environment for their tenants, we can take over these properties and make them and have the city make them.

Kate Martin: (Yes)

Question Four: According to one national study, a Washington renter would need to work 81 hours a week earning minimum wage in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The Tenants Union is getting regular phone calls from tenants reporting rent hikes as high $400-$500, or more. Seattle is prohibited from enacting any kind of rent control because of a state statute passed over 30 years ago. If the state ban on rent control were lifted, would your administration support rent regulation to stabilize rent increases?

Peter Steinbrueck: (Maybe) Rent controls have been used in many cities around the country and do achieve the desirable short-term goal of slowing the rate of rental increases. However, they also have some very undesirable side-effects (reduction in new rental construction; conversion of rentals to condominiums or other uses), and I will only consider using such controls in limited circumstances. Before taking such steps, I will work creatively and energetically with builders, landlords, and other stakeholders, to create incentives or set minimum targets for construction of affordable units. Examples include allowing construction of smaller, higher-occupancy buildings, or perhaps subsidies and other financial supports. We also have an important resource in the Seattle Housing Authority, which provides housing for 26,000 residents in 400 locations, and I will consider expanding the SHA’s offerings along with other options to ensure affordable, quality rental housing.

Mike McGinn: (Maybe) From what I understand from talking with leaders in other major cities, rent control programs create both benefits and potential concerns. Should it be enabled by the state, we would look closely the experience of other cities before deciding whether to implement rent control or rent stabilization.

Ed Murray: (Maybe) I am not sure. I would certainly be willing to consider rent control or rent stabilization if it were a potential option, but I would have to be assured on the basis of thoughtful analysis that over the longer term it would reduce the rate of increase in rents and generate adequate affordable housing stock.

Joey Gray: (Maybe) With the wide variety of rent control models elsewhere and over time, like with any complex policy issue, I would retain experts and involve those directly impacted, in order to consider which models would have positive short-, medium- and long-term impact on Seattle renters, and which are best matched to current and projected conditions. Unintended effects must be carefully identified, but in principle, it’s important to create and preserve a stable environment for individuals and families at home.

Mary Martin: (Yes) Again, regardless of state legislation a fight must be waged by the unions and working people to make these changes.

Kate Martin: (No)

Question Five: The City of Seattle previously provided funding for tenants’ rights education and outreach; when tenants are educated on their rights they are more likely to stay stably housed. Do you see adequately funding outreach and education services to tenants as a priority so that they can know their rights to protect their housing?

Peter Steinbrueck: (Yes) The Seattle Department of Planning and Development currently provides detailed consumer education on tenants’ rights, and “Members of DPD’s Code Compliance staff are available to assist tenants and owners in understanding City code requirements.” (file at As Mayor, yes, I will ensure that staff, outreach, and web information will be available, and that all residents are aware of these supportive resources. I will also look at the possibility of adding ombudsman services with respect to tenant education and support.

Mike McGinn: (Yes) Tenant outreach and education is a priority for my administration. That is why the RRIO program includes funding for tenant outreach and education. Beginning in 2014, a dedicated staff person will be responsible for outreach to both landlords and tenants. Tenant outreach will focus on building an understanding of minimum housing standards, what is required from landlords, how to report a complaint or problem, and how to work with their landlord to improve their unit.

Ed Murray: (Yes) Absolutely. Information is power. This is a relatively low cost way to protect the rights of renters.

Joey Gray: (Yes) This answer is consistent with my professional and personal orientation as an information systems practitioner who is focused on sharing information in order to be helpful. It’s about setting up systems to provide and share just the right information at the right time to the people who need. This is an art that takes more than just funding.

Mary Martin: (Yes) But landlords need to be made accountable as well.

Kate Martin: (No) I would support tenants getting an informational flyer from the landlord when they begin renting, but not more elaborate education services which I think is impractical and which I think is the tenant’s responsibility, not the government’s.

Question Six: The City Council just passed an ordinance to break down barriers to employment for people with criminal records. Because of disparities in our criminal justice system, African-Americans are six times more likely to be convicted than a Caucasian, even though there is no difference in their rates of criminal activity. This has a heightened impact on communities of color who have been blocked from accessing good jobs and safe housing which in turn encourages recidivism and makes our communities less safe. Would your administration build on this legislation to expand housing opportunities for people with convictions and their families?

Peter Steinbrueck: (Yes) One of the many negative effects of what some call a “mass incarceration” mentality is that increasing numbers of citizens—particularly young black males, as you mention—have criminal records. It is well known that men with criminal records are at a severe disadvantage in finding work, housing, and establishing themselves in stable, productive life after their release. As Mayor, I will not tolerate housing discrimination. I will work to remove obstacles to fair housing access and stable housing.

Mike McGinn: (Yes) As I mentioned previously, I believe it is important to ensure that all city residents have a safe and decent place to live. Thus, as a city we should work to expand housing opportunities for people with past convictions. Much like the employment ordinance, I believe we should remove automatic barriers and “pre-screening” for past convictions. However, landlords should maintain the ability to conduct criminal background checks after the initial scan of potential tenants and evaluate whether they want to extend a lease based on individual circumstances.

Ed Murray: (Yes) Someone’s criminal history shouldn’t be the only or most important indicator of who that person is. Those who have done wrong and paid the appropriate penalty for their behavior deserve a second chance to become a productive member of society. They should not be denied the chance to live in safe housing as they work to rebuild their lives.

Joey Gray: (Yes)

Mary Martin: (Yes) As in the right to vote, those who have been railroaded into the so called criminal justice system should not be discriminated against. This is the same for the right to vote which felons in many states are deprived of.

Kate Martin: (Yes) We need to make sure people get into supported housing and job placement upon release. That housing should be in the region they’re from not the region they were arrested in.

Question Seven: In the 2013 state legislative session there were 12 anti-tenant bills introduced by the rental industry. Collectively these bills would have stripped tenants of due process, and made it easier for landlords to evict over arbitrary and excessive fees, hamper safeguards against carbon monoxide poisoning, empower landlords to arrest a tenant’s guests or void verbal agreements, and much more. Would you use the City of Seattle’s lobbying presence in our state Capitol to safeguard our rights and defend against anti-tenant legislation?

Peter Steinbrueck: (Yes) I strongly favor the protection of due process and observance of contractual terms for tenants, and oppose any arbitrary or “one-sided” legislation that would restrict or remove these protections.

Mike McGinn: (Yes) I have and will continue to use Seattle’s lobbying presence in Olympia to advance the rights of tenants. Housing is a right and renters deserve to be treated fairly by landlords as much as someone deserves a living wage and access to quality health care. In fact, just a couple of years ago, after a state law we actively opposed in the legislature was passed, my administration worked quickly to enact enabling legislation for our Rental Registration and Inspection program to avoid being preempted by the new state law. Protecting tenants from laws that diminish their rights, safety, or financial security will remain a priority for the City under my leadership.

Ed Murray: (Yes) Adequate housing means secure housing and efforts by the rental industry to undermine that security is deplorable. During my 18 years in the state legislature I have forged strong relationships with state and regional leaders and plan on using those ties to fight for the rights of tenants in Seattle and Washington at large. I was recently dubbed a “Housing Hero” by the Low Income Housing Institute for my legislative endeavors to retain and increase funding for low-income housing, and I have won multiple similar awards for my work on affordable housing in the past.

Joey Gray: (Yes)

Mary Martin: (Maybe) Not lobbying. We need mass action and collective action to demand and defend our right to housing and to make landlords meet the needs of their tenants.

Kate Martin: (Yes) This is not a blanket agreement to lobby, I would have to consider the case by case specific situations.

Narrative Questions:

The Seattle Housing Authority is Washington State’s largest landlord. What would your administration do to ensure the agency is accountable to its subsidized tenants?

Peter Steinbrueck: As the state’s largest landlord, the SHA must be a “model landlord” in all respects—offering clean, safe, and livable housing units and related amenities (open spaces, community-use spaces, and so forth). As Mayor, I will review the performance of the Housing Authority regularly and if necessary order an audit or performance evaluation to assess its activities. I will insist on regular reports from the Executive Director, meet with resident groups, and will require frequent client/consumer surveying to assess the level of satisfaction and to identify potential problems.

Mike McGinn: The Seattle Housing Authority is an independent agency that does not fall under the direct control of the executive branch of the City. That said, I do appoint two of SHA’s board members and my administration can and does work closely with SHA as they plan for and build new housing within the city. For example, with the planned redevelopment of Yesler Terrace, the City of Seattle has worked closely with SHA over the course of a number of years to negotiate a Cooperative Agreement (CA) that establishes a list of community benefits that will be provided through the redevelopment. The CA specifies: the number and type of replacement and new units of affordable housing, a relocation plan and details tenant rights, including the right to return to Yesler Terrace after construction, community facilities and services to be provided on-site (such as units that meet requirements for in-home childcare, community gardens, tree replacement, and space for community support services), a community workforce plan, including resident and women and minority hiring goals and an apprenticeship program, ongoing community engagement and oversight.
Under my leadership, the city will continue to work closely with SHA to ensure the provisions of the Yesler Terrace Cooperative Agreement are fully implemented as the project moves forward to

Ed Murray: To make sure the Seattle Housing Authority remains accountable I’d start by making sure the best people are appointed to the Board of Commissions so that accountability remains part of the department’s culture. Secondly, my door will be open to both the Housing Authority and tenants. Adequate affordable housing is a right, and so far our city has fallen short on its commitment to help low income people find a home. My administration will ramp up efforts to make tenant information more pervasive and easily accessible. Should the Housing Authority feel under resourced or tenants feel underserved, then I want to hear about it. A lot of people struggle day to day, and if we can do more to add a stability and security to their lives then it’s worth doing.

Joey Gray: In the spirit of good governance – which is my professional skill, one of my top values, and a primary reason I’m running – my administration will analyze administrative structures, not just for fiscal responsibility and efficiency, but to make sure that a respectful “user centered” approach is taken to communications between tenants and the Authority. In part due to my graduate studies in organization theory and studies in uses of administrative codes and regulations as information systems, and in part due to my experience consulting in business, nonprofits, education and government, I am adept at identifying non-obvious causes of bureaucratic dysfunctions and at resolving them in sometimes subtle, but effective, ways that others may not see. I understand better than most how the often unintended effects of policies, and organizational routines and culture, can affect things like attention to tenant safety, tenants’ scarce financial resources, and a sense of being at home. It’s important to respect those in order to positively enable people’s everyday lives, happiness, uses of time, hope, and ability to escape poverty.

Mary Martin: Make sure there are meetings held often where tenants can make their views known. Also revamp the SHA so that tenants make a majority of the board if that is not the case now.

Kate Martin: I really think that the bigger issue is that SHA needs to be reinvented.

Over half of Seattle rents their homes; in what way would you be different from your opponent(s) in improving the rights of tenants in Seattle?

Peter Steinbrueck: Speaking from my own perspective as a long-time member of the City Council, and as a long-time Seattle resident, I have a deep and long commitment to the maintenance of a good rental market in this city with a range of affordability. As you note, more than half of all Seattle residents don’t own; they rent – and renters are young, old, retired or working, families and singles. We need a range of housing options in all neighborhoods that fits with the neighborhood character.
I have a long record of not only advocating for affordable housing, but finding ways of creating, protecting and preserving affordable housing, as I did in downtown and in South Lake Union. Housing must be affordable, people who work in the city should also be able to live in the city. Affordable housing must be located in every neighborhood, within walking distance of services, shops, parks, schools and transit. Affordable house must be clean, safe, and available equally, without discrimination. It’s important to recognize that a well-managed, affordable stock of rental housing is good for both renter/tenants and owner/landlords, and contributes to the attractiveness of Seattle living. As Mayor, I will continue the commitment I always had on the City Council, and I will advocate for the interests of tenants throughout the city. Seattle is a city for all.

Mike McGinn: I am proud of my record of standing up for tenant rights and particularly for passing the Rental Registration and Inspection Program. My administration is currently investing in the
implementation of this program, hiring new staff and preparing for a successful roll-out in 2014. I am confident the program will result in safer and more secure housing for all of Seattle’s tenants. As I’ve outlined above, I will continue to be a champion for tenants’ rights and affordable housing in our city, both by working to strengthen and improve our local laws and policies and by standing up for what’s right in Olympia.

Ed Murray: I am the candidate who sees access to adequate housing as a part of the larger struggle for human rights and greater equity within society. That’s not to say the other candidates don’t think the duty to uphold tenant rights is important, they do, but it has been a priority throughout my career to do my best to aid in the effort to supply adequate affordable housing to low income citizens. Between the various budgets I’ve crafted in the legislature I’ve help secure over $23 million for Seattle housing projects, and I relish the opportunity to continue enacting positive change as the next mayor of Seattle.

Joey Gray: The first “right” of a tenant – or anyone – is for their housing to be affordable and stable. Seattle doesn’t have nearly enough rental housing that meets either of those criteria for anyone making less than median income (most renters). Beyond that, for both of these questions, many of the needed laws and regulations are on the books – it’s a question of problems being reported, heard, and acted upon. Proper attention to these issues requires exactly the priorities and information administration expertise I bring to the office. Of the candidates, I’m also most likely to look beyond existing assumptions, and work with others towards creating innovative mechanisms for housing-related wealth (stability) to be transferred between generations in balanced ways, regardless of owner/renter status. For now, this is simply a nod of recognition to the fact that we are not only talking about month-to-month or annual pay and rents here, but the even bigger question of making and keeping our city stable for families over generations as well.

Mary Martin: We need to explain that as long as housing is a commodity the capitalist class will continue to gouge working people. We need to build a revolutionary movement to take power out of the hands of the capitalist class and put working people into power. In the meantime we fight for what we want and try to wrest concessions from the wealthy ruling class.

Kate Martin: I don’t have my opponents positions on this issue in front of me, so I can’t comment comparatively. I think both landlords and tenants need their rights defended. I will focus on the needs of both.