Hundreds rally for bills against rent gouging in Washington

Making ends meet is getting harder for thousands of Washingtonians who rent their homes.

Prices continue going up, and landlords throughout the state are accused of excessive increases. Companion bills Senate Bill 5961 and House Bill 2114 hope to address rent gouging statewide.

Hundreds of people rallied on the steps of the Capitol Building on Tuesday. Many of them said the lack of affordable housing and excessive rent increases were factors contributing to the rising homelessness in Washington. Through their speeches and chants, they asked lawmakers to support the companion bills to address the issues.

"We’re all here fighting for the same thing: to be human, to be housed," said Jazzmine Lindsey, a case manager at Titusville Supportive Housing for Women in Kent.

"We all need to come together to solve this because it’s affecting everybody," said Derrick Belgarde, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, an organization that provides shelter and wrap-around services for urban Native communities experiencing homelessness in the Seattle area.

"We were the first people to know what it’s like to be displaced in this country, to be kicked out of our homes, and off our land, and out of our place where we have security. We always say we never had homelessness before 1492 in our communities," said Belgarde.

SB 5961 and HB 2114 propose enacting rent stabilization policies, some of which include a cap on rent increases, limiting fees and deposits, and establishing a resource center for landlords.

"We’ve got to step up and be better as a society and ensure everyone has a safe home," said Belgarde. "You can’t thrive, your families can’t thrive, your communities can’t thrive without it."

The bills state: "In 2023, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that more than 900,000 Washington renters experienced a rent increase, of which 75% reported an increase of greater than $100 and 9% experienced an increase of more than $500."

Advocates at the rally said the price hikes are forcing people to make tough financial decisions, from skipping rent to pay other urgent bills, move out of state for lower costs, or even end up homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported states across the nation, including Washington, saw a record-high homeless count in 2023.

"It’s not something we should tiptoe around. There’s people in the streets and there’s people dying right now because they are unhoused," said Lindsey.

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Like several proposals currently in legislation, the final hours are near for SB 5961 and HB 2114 to make it through committee. Lawmakers must pass proposed bills out of their respective committees by Jan. 31 for legislation to move forward and possibly be considered for full vote in the state House and Senate chambers.

"People are dying out there on the streets," said Belgarde. "Now is the time. We can’t keep going on."