Rent-control debate turns raucous at Seattle City Council committee hearing

SEATTLE -- A raucous hearing took place Thursday at Seattle City Hall over the controversial issue of rent control.

Activists were in full force, pushing the City Council to take action.  They argue that not enough has been done in response to some of the highest rents increases in the country.

“There are speculators coming into Seattle, exploiting the housing crisis, making things worse,” Patrick Ayers said in testimony before lawmakers.

The problem for rent control supporters, however, is that the policy is prohibited by state law.  Cities, such as Seattle, can’t implement it even if they want to.

The debate Thursday was over a resolution to push the Legislature to change the law and end the ban, which was sponsored by City Council members Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata.   And it brought out a packed house.  Renters and landlords squared off in front of City Council members.

“Two and a half years ago I was paying $750 a month for my rent,” said Tom Barnard.  “I’m now paying $1,250 a month.”

But a handful of landlords showed up to argue their case.

“Every time a jurisdiction has tried it, it gives you an opposite effect,” said Sean Flynn, of the Rental Housing Association.

Each side points to other states for guidance.  Supporters say rent control has successfully eased the crunch elsewhere, but opponents argue it reduces supply and actually increases costs.

There were way more renters than landlords Thursday, but after all the debate dust had settled, the City Council committee split on whether to support the resolution.

A final vote by the entire council will take place early next month.

Even if the resolution musters enough votes for passage, rent control faces an uphill battle in the Legislature.  State lawmakers have consistently resisted ending the ban.