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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.