Tag: landlords

Morning Crank: From Homeless Camp to Graffiti Fence

1. Back in February, the Seattle Department of Transportation put up a temporary chain-link fence around the Ballard Bridge underpass at Leary Way Northwest in an attempt to deter homeless people from trying to take shelter under the bridge. Several weeks later, the fence was replaced by a more permanent structure, topped with metal spikes and standing some ten feet tall. The city argued that the $100,000 fence was necessary because if homeless people were allowed to sleep under the bridge, they might set the bridge on fire, causing it to collapse. Whatever the city’s motivation, the fence also answered the wishes of many neighborhood activists who took umbrage at having to look at homeless people through their car windows on their way home from work.

Now, they get to look at this:

And this:

And this:

About half the fencing is currently covered with graffiti, a problem made possible, in part, by the wall-like semipermanent fencing the city chose to enclose the area under the bridge. Asked when or whether the city plans to clean up the graffiti, SDOT spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said SDOT’s first priority is maintaining the safety of the bridge; in a followup, she said graffiti removal is the responsibility of Seattle Public Utilities, which plans to clean up the graffiti four times a year, at a cost of about $1,900 per cleanup. Given that the fences appear to be an appealing target for taggers, I asked Hobson if the city might step up its efforts to keep the fence tag-free; I’ll update this post if I get more information.

2. The Rental Housing Association of Washington—a group that advocates on behalf of landlords—filed a lawsuit today challenging the city’s “fair chance housing” law, which says that landlords can’t ask about potential tenants’ criminal history when deciding whether to rent to them. The lawsuit is one of several RHA has filed against the city in recent months; the group has also challenged laws capping the amount of move-in fees landlords can require tenants to pay and the so-called first-in-time law, which requires landlords to rent to the first qualified candidate. (A King County Superior Court judge  agreed with RHA, ruling in March that the first-in-time law violated landlords’ property rights). In its complaint, the group argues that the law infringes on landlords’ “constitutionally protected right to choose whom they will house and work within these often lengthy and interpersonal landlord-tenant relationships. The inability to access valuable information about potential tenants increases various risks faced by plaintiffs when renting their property.”

At a press conference Tuesday morning, RHA president William Shadbolt argued that the city’s tenant protection ordinances make the housing affordability crisis worse. “Making criminals a protected class and other ordinances like it makes the city council directly responsible for increasing people’s rent,” he said. Shadbolt suggested that the city should instead adopt a law that would give renters with criminal records (of any kind) the option of going before an “impartial panel” to get a “restoration of opportunity” certificate that could allow them to rent from some “willing small landlord[s].”  Several landlords said they had drastically increased their screening criteria—requiring higher income or credit scores, for example—in an attempt to prevent “the criminals” from qualifying to rent from them.

In reality, criminal background checks allow landlords to screen out people who have merely been arrested or accused, but found not guilty, of committing a crime—one reason that criminal background checks disproportionately impact people of color, who are far more likely to be targeted, detained, and charged for crimes they did not commit. (Overall, roughly one in three Seattle residents has some kind of criminal history). On the other end of the spectrum, people who do commit crimes and serve their time have a much easier time reintegrating into their communities if they have stable housing.  And of course, people with stable housing are much less likely to commit crimes that stem from poverty, isolation, lack of services, and economic desperation.

City council member Lisa Herbold, who sponsored the fair-chance legislation, says, “One of the fundamental tenets of our justice system is that only a court of law can punish someone accused of a crime.  Blocking people from accessing stable housing based upon their criminal background violates this fundamental tenet of our justice system and is inconsistent with the rule of law.” Herbold also disputes the idea that renting to people with criminal backgrounds puts landlords and tenants without criminal history at rick. “Blocking people from accessing stable housing is a recipe for recidivism and less safety for our communities,” she says. “With housing, a person is seven times less likely to reenter the criminal justice system.  I would expect anyone in favor of a safer Seattle to support this law.”

3. A report by BERK Consulting on Seattle’s “democracy voucher” program, which provides four $25 vouchers to every Seattle resident to contribute to the local candidates of their choice, concludes that while more people contributed to candidates in last year’s elections compared to previous years, the people who used democracy vouchers skewed whiter, wealthier, and older than the city as a whole. The report also found that while more candidates decided to run last year, only a handful managed to qualify for vouchers, and made recommendations for improving the system and increasing access to vouchers in the future.
A few highlights of the 51-page report:
• Democracy vouchers did little to prevent “big money” from dominating Seattle politics, as total spending in city council campaigns increased 60 percent between 2015 and 2017, as candidates asked to be released from campaign spending limits when their opponents’ spending, plus spending by outside groups on their behalf, exceeded the limits set by the legislation that established the voucher program. Independent expenditures, which the city does not have the authority to limit, jumped 55 percent over the same two-year period, leading the consultants to conclude that “the role of big money in Seattle elections persists.”
• Because candidates can be released from spending limits if their opponent’s total contributions (including both direct contributions and independent expenditures) exceeded those limits, the report found, the program may unfairly penalize candidates who have no say over whether an outside group does an independent expenditure on their behalf. Conversely, the trigger for releasing campaigns from spending limits might create a perverse incentive for candidates to encourage or solicit small IEs against their opponents in order to boost their combined campaign spending above the threshold and triggering a release from spending limits. “
• For candidates, the biggest barrier to participating in the democracy voucher program was the difficulty of getting signatures and contributions of at least $10 from 400 registered voters and verifying their information with the city, with the result that “most candidates did not receive any public funding, or qualified to receive public funding too late in the election cycle to make a difference.” To fix that problem in the future (and, presumably, to help prevent democracy voucher fraud in future elections), the consultants recommend “significantly streamlining the verification process – particularly when it comes to qualifying contributions,” by allowing people to verify their identities electronically when they make their contributions.
BERK will present its report to the Ethics and Elections Commission on the 40th floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower today at 4.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Seen and Not Heard

Image result for oak view group arena seattle

1. One of the lead investors for Oak View Group’s winning bid to redevelop Key Arena, billionaire investor and Boston Celtics minority owner David Bonderman, resigned from the board of Uber yesterday after cracking a sexist joke about female leaders during a company-wide meeting of the ridesharing company.  The meeting was aimed at addressing sexual harassment and hostile working conditions for women at Uber. Bonderman made the comment as board member Ariana Huffington was trying to explain how having one woman on a company’s board made it more likely that more women would join when Bonderman interrupted her and, according to the Washington Post, said, “Actually, what it shows is, it’s much likely there’ll be more talking.” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took a leave of absence this week, promising to come back as “Travis 2.0,” after ignoring complaints of sexual harassment at the company for years.

Bonderman issued a statement apologizing for his “joke” and is no longer on the board. Still, in the wake of a massive online effort to silence the five female council members who voted against the other stadium deal, should Seattle be inking an arena agreement with a guy who “jokes” that women should be seen and not heard?

2. Fundraising for the August (really mid-July) mayoral election kicked into high gear last month, particularly for presumptive frontrunner Jenny Durkan, who raised more than $160,000 in May and has continued to bring in donations at a steady pace in June. Durkan’s contributors are a who’s who of the Seattle political establishment, ranging from developers (Martin Smith III, Martin Smith Real Estate) to current and former city council members (Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Jan Drago), philanthropists (Dorothy Bullitt) and ex-governors (Christine Gregoire and her husband Mike).

Civic activist Cary Moon came in second in fundraising this month, with $67,800, including $250 from city council member Mike O’Brien. O’Brien also contributed $250 to Nikkita Oliver, an attorney and criminal justice reform advocate who is also running for mayor. So far, O’Brien has not thrown any financial support to former mayor Mike McGinn, a close O’Brien ally during McGinn’s 2009-2013 term. Overall, McGinn raised less money in May than not just Moon and Durkan but Oliver, and only shows higher fundraising numbers than former state representative Jessyn Farrell because Farrell was barred from campaigning for most of the month, until she resigned her state position; yesterday, Farrell announced that she had raised more than $50,000.

Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Ed Murray, who announced last month that he would not seek reelection, returned $8,825 in contributions in May, including donations from Bullitt Foundation founder Dorothy Bullitt, developer Richard Hedreen, and at least three members of the mayor’s own staff: Ryan Biava, Joe Mirabella, and Drue Nyenhuis, who received refunds of $350, $375, and $500, respectively.

I’ve put together a spreadsheet showing how the candidates’ fundraising stacks up for May, which I’ll update as new numbers for that month come in; the sheet includes a few notable contributions as well as a somewhat eye-popping expenditure by mayoral candidate Michael Harris, a self-proclaimed “no-new-taxes” candidate who announced his campaign on a conservative radio talk show. Harris, according to his filings, spent $1,386 on “alterations for candidate’s clothing” at Nordstrom.

3. By the end of this year, if all goes according to plan, I’ll have lived in three different apartments, and at least two city council districts, over a three-year period. As a renter, that’s just part of the deal: My last landlord (this guy) raised my rent without addressing some major problems with the place, and my current apartment costs too much for a studio unit in an old house that’s held together with duct tape, 100 years of paint, and prayers that SDCI doesn’t knock on the door. That means that I’ll have to re-register to vote at my new address—something homeowners never have to think about, but renters are supposed to take care of every time they move.

Naturally, between scrambling to come up with first, last, and deposit, arranging for movers or renting a U-Haul, setting up heat, electricity, Internet, and water, and filing dozens of change-of-address forms, tenants sometimes forget that they have to re-register if they want to vote. This has consequences; according to the US Census, just 21 percent of renters who moved in the last year voted in the most recent election, compared to 41 percent who had lived in their residence for five years or more.

Yesterday,  the city council’s energy and environment committee voted unanimously to move forward with legislation that will add voter registration and change-of-address information to the packets that landlords must give tenants when they sign or renew their leases. The proposal, council staffer Aly Pennucci noted, has been controversial among some landlords, who have argued that it represents an unnecessary additional burden. It would be easier to sympathize with that argument if landlords were actually being asked to do anything new, but the pages with voter information will be added to the packet the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections already makes available to landlords online; the only conceivable “burden” is the need to print out latest version of the document. The new information would add about five pages to renter packets.

4. Pedestrian Chronicles has the scoop on an innovative new proposal to give low-income tenants access to reduced-fare ORCA cards where they live, giving renters access to a benefit that is typically provided by employers. Sixty-eight percent of residents at market-rate buildings get reduced-cost ORCA cards through their jobs, PedChron notes, compared to just 21 percent of tenants in subsidized housing. Find out more about how Capitol Hill Housing hopes to flip that equation at Pedestrian Chronicles.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

Are New Tenant Protections Anti-Urbanist?

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.46.26 PM

Is the “Carl Haglund law” anti-urbanist?

The new Seattle regulation,  which forbids landlords from raising rents if their buildings violate city building codes designed to protect life and safety, is named for the notorious Southeast Seattle landlord who bought a Rainier Valley apartment complex and tried to double his new tenants’ rents, despite the fact that the complex was infested with roaches, rats, and mold and had dozens of other housing code violations. Council member Kshama Sawant pushed for the new rules, which tenant advocates argue will provide another layer of protection for tenants who currently lack much recourse when landlords refuse to do repairs or try to force tenants out with unjustified rent increases.

But there’s another perspective on the law, one raised by self-described urbanists and landlords who say the regulations could force them to sell their properties to developers, leaving low-income tenants with fewer places to live in the city. Their argument goes like this: Small landlords who rent out “naturally affordable” housing keep their prices low by deferring maintenance on the small stuff—painting exteriors less frequently, or putting off energy upgrades, for example. If they’re forced to suddenly comply with every bit of minutia in the building code, there’s no way they can afford it—and without hundreds of thousands in reserves, they’ll have to raise their rents to pay for the repairs. Backed into a corner by the city, some will be forced to sell—most likely to developers who will build luxury new housing, displacing the low-income people who were living there.

Charlie Cunniff, a retired city Office of Economic Development staffer and former head of the Seattle Climate Partnership, rents out five units—a duplex and a triplex. He says he keeps the two buildings in good repair, and raises rents a little bit every year to cover basic maintenance and inflation, but wonders, “What will happen if our boiler blows up?”

Or, “Let’s say that you buy a new building and unbeknownst to you, there’s been years and years and years of deferred maintenance. … You’ve already paid $200,000 for the down payment and [taken out] another loan for $800,000 and the previous landlord has deferred the maintenance and you need to fix the windows, the boiler, and all these other things. Where do you get the cash? If the place is moribund and all the windows are broken, that’s  one thing. But if it’s just substandard and people are okay with living there…”

Cunniff says he has no problem with the law, although he does think enforcing existing rules, like the rental housing inspection law that passed in 2010, would be more effective than adding new regulations without the funding to enforce them. Developer lobbyist Roger Valdez, in contrast, argues that the new rules will lead to unintended consequences, like the destruction of existing affordable housing.

Valdez, who in addition to his work on behalf of small developers is a professional contrarian, says Sawant and others who support the Haglund law “want to declare a war on landlords, which is sort of like, in a time of food crisis, declaring war on supermarkets. … Make more bread. That’s the solution. Make more housing.”

Former Tenants Union director Jon Grant has an analogy of his own for landlords who say they can’t afford to make unanticipated repairs: They’re “like a small restaurant owner not cooking their chicken all the way through and letting all their customers get sick, and when the health department comes and says, ‘You need to make sure your chicken isn’t hurting people,”  the small business owner saying, ‘That’s unreasonable—I’d have to fix my rotisserie, and that’s expensive!’ The cost of doing business is that you make sure you’re maintaining your properties and keeping them safe.”

Valdez counters that the city already has a “sufficient mechanism” for making sure landlords aren’t cutting corners—the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance, which passed in 2010. “In cases where people are deliberately letting buildings run down and intimidating tenants, then hold those people accountable, but we already have the resources to do that,” Valdez says. 

But that inspection ordinance didn’t manage to catch Haglund’s dozens of code violations—a sign to tenant advocates like Grant that the city needs to do more to counter bad actors. Valdez and Grant actually agree that rental inspection ordinance lacks funding and teeth, but to Valdez, that’s a reason to focus on improving that program (“If buildings like Carl’s can pass the city inspection, why isn’t the city saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute, let’s fix that program”), and to Grant, it’s a sign that the program isn’t doing enough on its own. “He’s trying to say [the rental inspection law is] a reason we don’t need this ordinance, but I would say we need this ordinance and we also need to fix RRIO, because it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do,” Grant says.

Obviously, the council is sympathetic to Grant’s position, voting 8-0 (Bruce Harrell, who abstained on the original rental housing inspection ordinance, was excused) to pass it. Lisa Herbold, a former aide to lefty council stalwart Nick Licata, who retired this year, said Monday that any “reliance on rent increases in order to finance basic life safety repairs is completely unfair.” The Rental Housing Association, the group the Stranger reports has “hinted at a lawsuit” opposing the law, did not return a call for comment.