‘Affordable housing’ forum starts with West Seattle tales of unaffordable housing, and what (little) you can do about it

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Rather than starting with numbers and trends, this afternoon’s affordable-housing forum at the Senior Center of West Seattle cut directly to the heart of the crisis, with two women telling their stories.

They were introduced by the center’s social worker Holly McNeill: “I’ve had an incredible increase in the number of people coming to me each week telling me they’re homeless, or their apartments are being torn down, or they’re being priced out by the landlord or manager in order to upgrade the apartments and turn them around at twice the amount they’re currently being rented at … it’s just happening to so many people.”

First, Nancy:

“I lived in a 9-unit mom-and-pop-type apartment complex.” She thought it would “be there forever.” They told her they were selling the building but “selling it to people just like us” – then, “the new owners who came in and bought the building raised the rents anywhere from 130 to 140 percent – “In a studio apartment, my rent went from $650 to $1500 a month” – the audience groans – “Each unit was going to be responsible for the common area utilities like electric and water,” which was another 93/month. They got two months’ notice. “My first reaction was to go into research mode – my kids always say, mom’s on a mission, get out of her way.” She worked to find out, “is this legal … what are our rights … to no avail, really.” She had had surgeries recently, ended up having to take early retirement. “I don’t really have wiggle room to go from $650 to $1590, that’s even more than I make per month.” So she started “an arduous process” to find someplace else to live – “day and night I was on the computer looking for a place to live.” She finally found somewhere, “not my ultimate, ‘isn’t this great,’ but I accomplished my goal. I had to be out on the 28th of February, or else pay $1590 on the first of March for rent. ”

They were going to make some changes, “lipstick on a pig,” she said, but not until the new rent kicked in. She found a two bedroom, one bath apartment with “some guy I don’t know” – she had “a pit in the bottom of my stomach … I took a leap of faith, and moved in, and I’ve been there two months and he decided this month not to pay his rent, and I just found that out two days ago, and I’m going to be homeless again …”

Nancy continued, “The highest I can afford is $650/month – and I guarantee you cannot find anything inside OR outside Seattle – I even searched as far as Bellingham.” Her landlords want to keep her but can’t figure out how. “These are stories that SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING.”

Next, Diana, who said she considers herself homeless – she is living with her sister and brother-in-law; “if not for them I would be on the street or in Nickelsville.” Previously, she explained, she was renting a room in Admiral; the owner decided she was going to sell the house, didn’t tell the tenants, her or the other two tenants. “She sold the house, sold it as a teardown, sold it to developers – the developers came in, we were not told anything, we were there about a year and we got a 60-day notice we had to be out. We all looked (after the sale) … we could not find anything. To find something you can afford, is unreal. Craigslist .. if you answer anything (there) and say you are retired, you don’t get a callback.”

She continued, “It’s very sad. … I’m not the only one. There are a lot of other people in the area. It’s very frustrating. I don’t know what else to say, because I’m angry. If you ask a question, you don’t even get an answer. You’re made to feel stupid. I’m not stupid.” She said, “I wish we could march on the streets of West Seattle and let people know.”

Then, the trends and advice. Senior Center interim executive director Lyle Evans had introduced them all at the start, before City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen explained that the forum had been in the works for months.

Jennifer LaBrecque from the city Office of Housing spoke first, reviewing rental trends in West Seattle and the rest of the city:

First – “rents over time” – inflation-adjusted. Rents currently average less than $1,300 for 1=bedroom apartments in the larger West Seattle area, less than the citywide average 1-bedroom rent. One line shows The Junction, $1,456/month for 1-bedroom.

Looking at incomes – West Seattle is comparable to the rest of the city, with about 25 percent of people make $35,000 or less per year. Almost half make $75,000 or more. Then a pie chart – housing and income, rent data, almost half the people in West Seattle (and the city in general) are “housing-cost burdened” – housing costs more than 30 percent of their income. 24 percent are paying 20 to 29.9%, 28 percent are paying less than 20 percent.

She shows profiles – a woman who is retired on a fixed income – “household income $14,400, affordable rent would be $360, average studio rent … $1,169 … that’s close to a $700 gap between what they can afford and what they can find.” Then, a couple working part time – combined household income about $26,000, affordable rent would be $668, average rent is $1400 – “another gap.”

For a single person working fulltime and getting paid $30K, rent would be $765 at “affordable,” but $1169 is the reality of a studio.

She showed a slide with what she refers to as rent-restricted housing in WS, both public housing and the Multi-Family Tax Exemption-related units (developers don’t have to pay taxes on the residential construction for 12 years as long as they set aside a certain number of units for lower-income tenants), while cautioning, “for many if not most of these projects, there is a long wait list.”

She mentioned “HousingSearchNW.org“, which has a database among other resources for finding “available units that are affordable.” And she showed a list of homeowner resources – Home Repair Loan Program, HomeWise Weatherization Program, Foreclosure Prevention Resources, Minor Home Repair Program, Utility Discount Program.

Next: Joy Scott from Solid Ground.

She mentioned the Tenant Services Hotline they run three days a week. They offer “information on your rights as a renter under the Landlord Tenant Act,” “discuss your situation and brainstorm actions,” “provide community resources and free legal referrals.”

And then, she offered practical advice:


*Be proactive – know your rights uner the law and how to assert them
*You must be current in rent in order to assert your rights under the law
*Don’t withhold rent over repairs; the landlord could evict you for not paying your rent
*Communicate with your landlord in writing. Create a file and keep copies of letters, receipts, and notices related to your tenancy
*Read the rental agreement before signing and view the actual unit you will be moving into

She outlined key points of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, outlining what the landlord must provide in writing, and what fees they are allowed to charge – “only charge a screening fee if they have provided written notice of what the screening entails as described; can only charge the actual costs of screening – about $35 to $75.”

They recommend: Minimize your risk of paying a fee and getting denied by knowing what’s on your record adn finding out what the landlord is willing to work with, BEFORE you pay – what might be a cause for denial, for example. If you do get denied – they must give you a “written adverse-action notice stating the reason why” – if that is not provided, you can sue for up to $100 in Small Claims Court, plus court costs and attorneys’ fees.

Common barriers to tenancy: Eviction records – which never come off your record; credit history – check your credit report first – criminal history, and rental history. (Solid Ground, she explains, has a “financial fitness” program helping go over people’s credit reports.)

She goes over pros of month-to-month – pros include easy termination (both sides) but cons include terms including rent increases can be changed with as little as a month’s written notice. “Lease tenancy” – during that time, the terms can’t be changed but it’s a binding contract so if you need to change the terms, it becomes more difficult to exit without fines or penalties.

Security/damage deposits – rental agreement must be in writing including terms/conditions for deposit; walk-through checklist signed and copy to tenant; landlord provides you the name of the bank where the deposit is held in a trust account.

About rent increases, Scott said:

*To institute a rent increase: A tenancy must be month-to-month or up for renewal
*30 days written notice required, must correspond to start of rental period, usually 1st
*In Seattle, for rent increases of 10 percent or more in a twelve-month period, 60 days written notice is required
*Rent increase cannot be retaliatory
*There is NO rent control in Washington

Other helpful information:

To request repairs:
*Contact your landlord as soon as you notice
*Send request in writing (that does NOT mean e-mail)
*State time frames to begin repairs provided in the law
*Send repair letters by registered mail

Time frames:
Once the landlord receives a written requwst, they must begin to fix the problem within
*24 hours hot/cold water, electricity, heat, imminently hazardous
*72 hours plumbing, ovens, major appliences they supplied
*10 days for other repairs such as pest infestations

Notice to move out:
In month-to-month, 20 days written notice is required; improper notice or not moving out by deadline might cost a tenant an entire month of rent; in Seattle, a landlord cannot terminate a month-to-month tenancy without “Just Cause” – city ordinances cite 18 reasons

Documentation regarding moving out
*Review rental agreement, take pictures when you move in AND move out, communicate with landlord in writing, request receipts/keep copies of all communication, document all damages to the unit, no matter how small

Getting your deposit back
*Landlord has 14 days to refund or send itemized statement saying why any portion of it is being withheld
*If they miss deadline, you’re entitled to get it all back

Mortgage services program
*They can provide general info about foreclosure process, discuss situation/brainstorm actions, provide assistantce in navigating yoru lender’s loan workout process, refer and rep you in mediation with your lender, provide community resources and free legal referrals, provide Home Equity Conversion Mortgage counseling

Number one tip for property owners facing this – OPEN EVERY PIECE OF MAIL YOU GET. She explains “loan modification,” the forms you need, etc.

She says “reverse mortgages” not always the best solution but “does work for some” – available if you are 62 or over. They are not connected to financial institutions but you should attend a counseling session before you get one.

Next, Jake LeBlanc from the Seattle Housing Authority. He says they have 6,000 units and 10,000 vouchers in the city.

Low Income Public Housing program – where residents pay 30 percent of their income – 3200 units around the city, 28 high rises, low income, able to live indpendently, average income $9000, average rent $250. SHA gets a federal subsidy for each unit. Waiting list 1-4 years.

Then the Seattle Senior Housing Program – 23 buildings, 62 and older, all one or two bedrooms, average income $13,000, waiting list 1-3 years. There are rent tiers in this program, Jake says, depending on income.

LIPH West Seattle properties are on this mapCal-Mor Circle, Westwood Heights (near Roxbury Safeway), Stewart Manor. Westwood is 62 and older, has 135 units, other two have about 75 units. SSHP Wildwood Glen has 24 units, is about 30 years old, near Fauntleroy Ferry. Wait list 2.5 years, maybe 2 vacancies a year.

Le Blanc showed the rent tier graph, and then contact information including Admissions Office who can talk to them about resources, whether their housing or other low-income housing.

Outgoing City Councilmember Sally Clark, who is introduced by Rasmussen as having worked on affordable-housing issues for a long time, talked about “what city is working on internally.” Now she says, Seattle has been a boom-and-bust town for a long time: stories frequently about real-estate money, equity coming from outside, “very technical … but the real impact is the change of rent on what we see are these very attractive properties …” longtime landlords “who cared about our communities … we love our tenants and we’re not interested in making too many changes” – but then eventually properties change hands, like the 140 percent rent increase, “someone has bought and is maximizing their return.” She says the city is thinking more about preservation and how to get more praoctive. The city wants to becompetitive economically AND competitive in maintaining way of life.

She then explained the group “meeting around the Affordable Housing Agenda,” saying they are people from all aspects of the housing situation, “how does the city do better, how do we catch up, close the gaps …” The group is supposed to have recommendations by the end of May.

The two-months notice is someplace where Seattle has gone above and beyond other jurisdictions – but even at that, Clark acknowledged, “with a 140 percent rent increase, what does 60 days get you?” She said she intends to stay involved even after transitioning into her new job with the UW.

First audience question: Do you get on just one waiting list, or multiple? SHA’s LeBlanc said you can get on multiple wait lists – you can apply for both SSPP and LIPH, and can make a choice of which building(s) you’d rather be in. “It’s really important with us that you stay in contact, no matter which waitlist you’re on.”

Second question: What incentives are in the works for affordable housing? Rasmussen mentioned the MFTE – which Clark said had to be renewed by year’s end; she went on to mention “two buckets,” subsidized units and incentive zoning. (None of the latter in WS right now, she noticed.) She also mentioned the linkage fee, which says “when you build a new building, you’re changing the economics of the community – now, everybody else’s property values are going up, it’s gotten more expensive to be in the neighborhood, you probably had to include retail on the ground floor … (the workers in that retail) tend to not be incomes that can afford to live in the building you just built.” So, supporters of the fee contend, the developer should be making a contribution because of all that. “The linkage fee is being studied.”

A man stood up and pointed out that at least 1,000 new housing units are being built all around The Junction. “Are you saying that none of them are going to be low-income housing?”

He was interrupted for a moment by the next question, a man whose wife had a stroke and now they are paying $5,000/month for health care. “What do we do when our money runs out?” One thing he suggested, “get on a waiting list right away.”

Back to the low-income housing, MFTE came up again. No one knew which under-construction buildings were participating. Nancy, who said she was “trying to sit here and not explode,” says she can answer that – she had checked on them all – and mentioned that the “affordable” level is still way out of reach.

Clark said that lawmakers need to be able to help tell stories like the ones we heard here – “we need to make those stories real – Sen. Kohl-Welles’s bill” (should have advanced, but lost traction).

Nancy said extending the time is great, but that doesn’t change the fact the rent would still be unaffordable. “Unless one of you wants to take me home tonight and let me live with you, I’m screwed.”

Questions meandered a bit to the safety of low-income housing and whether pets were allowed.

One woman said that trying to cope with this problem can cause PTSD. “Keep reminding people that it costs so much more to our society to have to remedy the longterm health are or social problem or rehousing people … We all want Seattle to be a wonderful place to live. But 48 percent of us, housing is a burden, a stress in our life. That’s not healthy.”

Another question: What if landlords raise the rent every year, say 10 percent every year? Can we do anything about that? Rasmussen says, yes, they can, under current law. LaBrecque from the Office of Housing said, “We do see that more than we’d like to.”

More questions: What about legislation to standardize the tenant-screening fee and make it affordable? And what about landlords – lots of talk about how renters need to be careful not to screw up, but what about landlords violating lease agreements, say, allowing a pet in what’s supposed to be a pet-free building, where other tenants rented with that expectation?

Rasmussen said he wasn’t sure the screening fee could be standardized/made affordable at a city level – it might be something that the state hasn’t granted authority for them to do. He says he’ll look into it. Second, LaBrecque there’s no central landlord-observing body but the city does have staff that will come out, and you can make a report without providing your specific info. She pointed to a guide to tenants’ rights that has two pages of resources for tenants. (We found some here.) The Washington State Human Rights Commission could help with civil-rights violations at a property, for example, she said.

Another attendee asked about how to organize a group in a building that could have an impact on the building environment – in her building, for example, someone decided they wanted no pictures on the wall. “I’m sorry to bring this up when people are dealing with having a roof over their head, but sometimes that roof can feel like a prison,” she said. Solid Ground’s Scott suggested going to the Tenants’ Union.

From another attendee, the law regarding parking requirements in a building. “I live in senior housing, my life is literally directed about whether i can be home before 3 or I do not have a place on my street close to my apartment to park. I am a heart patient. I have sometimes had to walk half a mile.” She says that some neighbors cancel their health appointments if they’re going to get home after 4:30 pm because they can’t walk safely to their apartments.

Rasmussen explains the frequent-transit-service reason, and acknowledges the transit service doesn’t meet everyone’s needs. He then explains the cost to developers and cites $30,000-$40,000/parking space, and that the cost of the building affects the rent that will be charged. He also mentions a lot of pressure, strong sentiment to not require parking. “Where’s the pressure for not requiring parking?” asks a woman. “From the developers,” answers Rasmussen, “and from those who are advocating for affordable housing.” He says in some areas, like Capitol Hill, parking spaces are built in buildings and not used.

Wrapping up the forum, Evans said that the center has a bulletin board if someone wants to share a room or offer a room. It’s an unofficial way to coordinate, so drop by the center – “the home-sharing thing might be an immediate fix for some of you.”

No solutions – but a lot of resources.

63 Replies to "'Affordable housing' forum starts with West Seattle tales of unaffordable housing, and what (little) you can do about it"

  • Citizen Sane April 23, 2015 (7:29 pm)

    It’s so sad, but what do you do? Our rate of population growth is outstripping housing supply. The only way to alleviate this is to increase supply, but you’ll get pushback if you try to increase density.
    I don’t think Rent Control is the answer. It’s great for those who already have an apartment, sucks for those looking, and is a disincentive for investment.
    That said, anyone who rents and thinks their rent is never going to change is dreaming. It may be the case in declining cities like Detroit, but not here. If you want a stable housing situation, you really should buy, or you’re just gonna have to take your chances.
    Investment in low-income and senior housing is definitely an idea, but to what degree will we be willing to do this? We are challenged just dealing with potholes, and God help anyone who suggests a tax increase.
    We can either become more dense like Vancouver or San Francisco, or live with this.

  • (required) April 23, 2015 (7:30 pm)

    To summarize, the 1%-ers who own the dirt always win. Could anyone expect this meeting would have resulted in anything? Didn’t see any developers or landowners at the meeting. Surprise, surprise….but that’s why it’s good to be loaded.

  • H April 23, 2015 (8:27 pm)

    Oh boy. This is such a huge topic that first I want to say how much I appreciate this report.

    Second, I would like to encourage my fellow homeowners to consider how they could incorporate a mother-in-law.

    This is legal in our area. Sometimes it means renting out a portion of your home, adding an exterior door… but it could mean a home for someone and income for you. I have done this myself (it is rented). It could be a reasonable answer to providing below market rate and decent living conditions. Both women interviewed would be excellent long-term renters and are illustrative of the people I saw applying for tenancy. Let me add that it’s really very nice to have someone else create their home on your property. If it’s designed well everyone has privacy, some open space and a quality home.

  • H April 23, 2015 (8:31 pm)

    Also, since some comments may veer in this direction… I too was affected by the recession and my rental income helps me afford my mortgage. I am certainly not cash wealthy.

  • H April 23, 2015 (8:37 pm)

    Also, a MIL doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive to create. It does; however, have to be safe and adhere to building codes.

  • Kim April 23, 2015 (9:08 pm)

    What about a site/board/designated place-person to match up renters to share? $1200 split in half is more affordable.

  • tk April 23, 2015 (9:17 pm)

    There’s nothing but old people there. People that probably already have their mortgages paid off. I lost my house in the recession and will never be able to buy in west seattle again… but I’m 4th/5th generation west seattleite. What gives? Perhaps I’ll have something to inherit… when my kids have kids.

  • cj April 23, 2015 (9:18 pm)

    I have a daughter who moved up here and in with her sister out of a bad bad situation in a lower state. She applied in Kitsap county for housing and was told they would put her on a waiting list for a waiting list that is years long. I worry most of us may end up in tents soon.

  • G April 23, 2015 (9:35 pm)

    A lot can be said, but I’ll leave the theory for some other time. I hope someone can offer this woman a place to live; if you’ve ever been in a position of not having a roof over your head – or soon to be homeless – you’ll know it’s a taste of how cruel life can be.

  • Jaysinaah April 23, 2015 (9:44 pm)

    We’re taking the good with the bad here in greater Seattle. This area is booming and growing faster than any other major city in the U.S,, and this is the price we’re paying for this success.
    The first story from Nancy is incredibly sad. Nancy could be any of our grandmothers who has done nothing wrong, and now finds herself homeless. Imagine your grandmother homeless. We’re often quick to judge the homeless for a mistake they must have made; this is an accurate example of why we need to treat the homeless with compassion and care instead of assuming their situation was a result of drugs, laziness, etcetera.
    WSB while no results came from this discussion, your coverage now provides an excellent resource for community members who are facing this same dilemma. I wish I had all this information when my landlord sold my apartment without telling me, and the demolition crew showed up at my front door.
    There are truly frightening things that are happening in W Seattle and the region, and we need to band together now to shape the community we want to see in the future. Don’t assume your neighbors are taking action, because they’re assuming you’re taking action. Join your local neighborhood organization! Make W Seattle your own, today!

  • evergreen April 23, 2015 (9:52 pm)

    We feel stuck here in this housing fiasco because our child is thriving and my parents are close. However, I regret ever moving to the Seattle area in the first place. Now we are entrenched. To those who do not have kids and/or elderly parents here, seriously considering moving! There are by far cheaper areas in this country that also have cool businesses, progressive culture, and a pretty environment. Don’t waste your hard earned money if you have other options!

  • ScubaFrog April 23, 2015 (10:25 pm)

    Capitalism must be much more stringently regulated. No one should be allowed to legally raise rent by 100%. Corporations are given a carte blanche pass in the US to do whatever they want. They dictate all policies in the US via unlimited campaign contributions (thanks to republicans’ own citizens united). Their politicians are beholden to them and their bidding.
    At the end of the day in the US – money and corruption rule.
    I hope that some day this country starts following a closer Canadian/European model.

  • MH April 23, 2015 (10:51 pm)

    And that’s why I just moved to Burien. $1500/Mo for a 3b house with a yard. Done with Seattle.

  • jetcitydude April 23, 2015 (11:38 pm)

    Affordable housing here is a complete scam.

  • steve April 23, 2015 (11:52 pm)

    The Federal Reserve needs to raise interest rates. Zero interest is what caused the recession, (along with crooked banks), and it’s what continues to falsely prop up property values today. A good dose of higher loan interest rates would slash the principal cost of any given property. Lower purchase costs would lower rents. The key is to lower the value/cost of property. This could be done if the Federal Reserve had the guts to charge interest like the old days, but it presently prefers to give money to the banks for free. This is the problem, imho.

  • Trickycoolj April 24, 2015 (12:13 am)

    my friends in a duplex in Greenlake for the last 9 years are having it sold from under them. They have no idea if their rent is going to jump or if they’ll get kicked out for it to be gutted or torn down to build townhouses. The rent already went up $400 in January for the first time since they moved in. Their neighbor in the duplex is going to buy a condo in West Seattle because sadly a mortgage on a condo is cheaper than a 1960s never been renovated not up to code duplex in Greenlake.

  • WSobserver April 24, 2015 (1:05 am)

    Steve gets it.

  • sophista-tiki April 24, 2015 (5:21 am)

    Well, its a good thing the mayor has been busy making plans to secure future homeless camps.

  • Vincent Dakotah Langley April 24, 2015 (5:28 am)

    We’ve lived in our present apartment since November 18, 1999. Two-and-one-half years ago, a new owner bought the apartment complex that we live in. First of all, they say that we have only lived here for two-and-one-half years — not over 15 years, as, in fact, we have done. They immediately started “re-habbing” apartments here as soon as they bought the place, without moving anybody out of here. The construction mess and the construction mess here is oftentimes unbearable to live with! Anyway, instead of giving us a break in our rent during this apartment “re-habbing” process, which has taken two-and-one-half years now and isn’t but about half-done, they have kept raising our rent
    — the first time, by $80.00 per month and the second time by another $70.00 per month! Since we are elderly, disabled people on a rather small, fixed monthly income, just these frequent rent raises, alone, have taken what was all of our grocery money for the month (each month), so, from month-to-month now, no, we do not have any grocery money, at all!!! I am a diabetic person (this is known to our landlady) — and, medically-speaking even, a diabetic person
    HAS TO eat!!! We cannot afford to move anywhere else, either! The landlady here has raised-and-raised our rent simply because she wants us out of here, because we are disabled people who used a Seattle Housing Authority “Section 8” housing voucher, just over 15 years ago, to get our apartment here. This is what some of our neighbors here tell us. We are the only people here who have received these frequent rent raises. It’s a mess — to say the very least!!! That office in downtown Seattle, the City of Seattle Office for Civil Rights, won’t help us at all, either, because they won’t go up against a landlord (a real estate property owner), we’ve been trying-and-trying to get their help in all of this for well over two years now — and, every time that we do that, they only tell us something that is simply to their own convenience, to get us to stop contacting their office in all of this landlord/tenant type of “business” !!! We cannot afford a private Attorney at Law — not by any means, whatsoever!!! And, they know that!!! The next rent raise that we get here WILL make us homeless people!!! WHO cares at all in all of this situation??? …Does ANYBODY care??? NOT in this Seattle, Washington area — NOBODY REALLY CARES, AT ALL!!!… THIS IS WHAT A MESS THIS WHOLE PROBLEM REALLY IS!!!!!!! P.S. With our disabilities, neither one of us would last but for maybe just a day or two, out there on the streets as homeless people — and then, each one of us would simply die. Our landlady CERTAINLY DOES NOT CARE AT ALL, about that fact, either… …Talk about what is known, in the civil law, anyway, as “Wrongful Death”!!! The real estate property owners OUGHT TO BE charged with 1st Degree Murder, at criminal law, when this happens to somebody that they have evicted out of one of their rental properties, just because they don’t want them living in there!!! …SELFISH “people?” !!!!!!! …Yeah!!!!!!! (This is only about one-half of our story, in our present apartment rental situation. Sometime, ask me what is the rest of this story, if you care to do that, and I shall then tell you the rest of this story!!!)

  • m April 24, 2015 (6:13 am)

    Placing rent controls has consequences on the very people it is meant to protect. Why is there no balanced discussion so people can make education decision? When one just asks someone if they want their rents to not rise of course they would want that. But at what cost?

    Sometimes it’s better to listen to the actual experts rather that the activist.

    However, I do think the lack of notice when people are moved needs to be greatly reformed. That’s just inhumane.

  • Jim April 24, 2015 (6:37 am)

    Steve does get it. Except it’s not about “guts.” It is greed. The Federal Reserve is a corporation, not a government agency. They are stealing your money for their member banks.

  • S April 24, 2015 (6:51 am)

    These stories are sad, but I feel like “homeless” is being used out of context. These people do have choices–Burien, Renton, and Seatac are all close and less expensive and easy to get to by public transport.

    These people sound bright, educated, driven, and resilient–people who will probably find housing in less expensive areas.

    I think the general understanding of the word “homeless” is someone whose choices have been diminished beyond return; those with mental disorders, inability to get jobs, no pension plans, no retirement–no safety net. I’m not being snide, but the people in the article do have choices, unlike the majority of the homeless that I’ve met.

    Every person in the article sounds like an ideal renter. I have rentals in low income areas (Grays Harbor County) and we actually hope/pray for older retirees. Our net experience with seniors has been positive (we’ve had negative issues like death, mental disorders, and some hoarding, but on the whole seniors have been good renters–we even give discounts).

  • JoB April 24, 2015 (7:35 am)

    this is the new face of homelessness

  • LarryB April 24, 2015 (7:42 am)

    Rent control, while appealing on the surface, has lots of bad downstream consequences. It wasn’t the entire reason that so much of North/Central Brooklyn wound up littered with burned out, abandoned buildings, but it definitely was a contributing factor. (I grew up in Brooklyn, and was a teen during the worst of it.) When an apartment owner’s costs start to exceed their income from a property, many either walk away or start harassing tenants in the hope of getting them to move.

    There are models for managing rents for lower income people without punishing property owners. Hoboken, NJ manages to do it somewhat right. They share the rent cost with the tenant, so that the cost of living is managed, and the landlord is kept more or less whole. It’s not perfect – waiting lists are long for the program – but it’s better than most because there’s no incentive for owners to stop maintaining their properties.

    Personal note – my wife and I just bought a house in Sunset Heights and we plan on building a backyard cottage so that we can have an income stream when we get older. If we’d wind up being under rent control, we simply won’t build, and the city will have lost an opportunity to add a rental unit in a reasonably priced neighborhood.

  • Jon April 24, 2015 (8:25 am)

    This is a political failure. There’s absolutely no reason why a city as wealthy as this should have this problem. Period.

    It’s inhumane.

    Anyone offering thin justifications for it based on “market principles” or not being able to fight “zoning pushback” (yes, you’re as bad as the free-marketeers), or telling people they should simply look farther afield in places that will eventually get pushed as far out as Yakima, should really take a long, hard look at what sort of society they’re advocating.

  • m April 24, 2015 (8:29 am)

    @Jim and Steve. Fyi. Banks make a lot more money in a higher interest rate environment. I don’t disagree that lower rates contributes to higher real estate prices. However, higher rates will create much less supply of available appartments driving up rents.

  • Sue April 24, 2015 (8:32 am)

    I don’t think anybody is asking for a rent control that assures that rents never rise. I mean sure, I’d love that, but that’s not realistic. However, I do not understand why there are no realistic caps on how high rent can raise, and how often. I think that’s what people are asking for – or at least I am. I don’t expect to have a $400 month apartment. But when I get an average of a 2% raise every year, and rent goes up 10% (or more), and every utility and other expense also goes up each year, it’s not hard to see how this is creating a crisis. Buy a house/condo, you say? Well, with the expenses continuing to go up faster than salaries are raised, who has the $ to save for the down payment? While those like me in our 50s are also trying to save for retirement at some point?
    Somebody mentioned just moving to Burien, SeaTac, etc. I’ve looked into that. Right now I’m in the Junction and you can get by without a car and to/from work in 20-30 minutes by bus. Most of the places I’ve looked into south of WS would require me to have a car, and even if I would live on a bus line for work, it costs more from those zones, and the trip is 2-3 times the length.
    I don’t wish to go back to the New York City area (where I moved from 10 years ago), but I’m certainly considering my options of where I might be better off than the Seattle area.

  • A April 24, 2015 (8:38 am)

    The thing that continues to strike me about the ongoing affordability debate is that it is the rate of increase, not the absolute level, of rents that is causing angst.

    Some of these mom and pop type landlords seem to think they are doing their tenants a favor by charging them below market rent for years on end. In reality all they are doing is a) losing money themselves and b) setting the tenant up for a rude awakening someday when the rent resets to market. It would be better for everyone to have rents increase at a steady and predictable rate. Tenants would “see the writing on the wall” and have more time to adjust to changing realities.

  • Jeff April 24, 2015 (9:06 am)

    This is happening in every major city in the country, but I think some cities have better options then others. If you have a Section 8 voucher you should get on line and go to GOSECTION 8 and look at the listings. If there is nothing in your area, you may have to consider moving to another city. I know here in Fort Lauderdale there are tons of section 8 apartments 2 bed 2 bath completely renovated for 1100 a month. Section 8 would pay most of that as this amount is under the HUD payment threshold for Broward County. I saw one whole complex that just was completely remodeled with granite countertops, new everything on a bus line, they have 8 units available that are empty. So you have to expand your searches if you can’t find something where you are at. Its not fair but migrations of the poor have happened over and over again in this country and you have to go where you can afford to live. The southern states are far less expensive than Seattle or any of the west coast cities.

  • jetcitydude April 24, 2015 (9:20 am)

    Hey Sophista-tiki.. When Ed Murray speaks about affordable housing he actually means tent cities. Shhhh…

  • Enviromaven April 24, 2015 (9:24 am)

    @Tracy – good to see you yesterday! Thanks, as always, for your ongoing efforts to inform and educate our community.

    @S -Many of us who are “bright, (well) educated, driven, and resilient” also suffer from chronic illness that impacts our productivity. In fact, some actually suffer from “negative issues” like the “mental disorders” you mention. And guess what? Death – the ultimate “negative issue” will impact you, too, at some point. Grays Harbor County is worlds away from Seattle socially, culturally, and economically – the comparison to Seattle is moot. I’m not being snide, either, but honestly, it sounds like you’re the one in need of education here.

  • S April 24, 2015 (9:30 am)

    @JoB Again, I think that “homeless” means you end up on the street, not that you need to find housing in another location.

    Diana isn’t living in Nickelsville without access to showers, toilets, possibly food, a safe place to sleep. Diana, Nancy, @Sue, and others are people looking for housing situations. Their situations suck and are beyond frustrating, but they do have possibilities. The desire to live where we want to live is just that. A desire. Not a basic necessity.

    I’m not unsympathetic or cruel, I just want to remove hyperbole from the conversation. Talking about yearly/% rent caps and other possibilities is positive.

    @Sue: is your job in WS? Is finding working in a more affordable area a real possibility or is there an issue of less income elsewhere?

  • car-less April 24, 2015 (9:35 am)

    You have exposed yourself as the only West Seattleite without a car!

    Would you consider living in a garage free apartment for a discount?

    What about micro apartments for less than $1,000?

    Seattle activists have used political pressure in expressing their “concerns” over development to eliminate thousands of rental units and starter single family housing.

    These vocal “concerns” and the Council’s reaction to them is coming home to roost.

  • MSG April 24, 2015 (9:53 am)

    Sadly, this is why we left Seattle late last year. Priced out! The costs associated with moving are no picnic. The cost of paying first, last, and security and paying for a rental truck may keep people stuck.
    I hope to come back to West Seattle one day when prices go back down. It’s not too bad on the other side of the mountains though.

  • Sue April 24, 2015 (10:42 am)

    car-less, in the interest of full disclosure, I *do* own a car, but rarely drive it. When I first moved to the Junction 18 months ago I did not own one, but then a 15 year old car fell into my lap for cheap. It costs me nothing more than insurance and a few oil changes a year (about the same amount as what I was paying monthly for using the car-share companies a few times a month). But, if something broke down on it (or if was a matter of buying food over car insurance), I would get rid of it and not replace it. That would not be possible in some of the outlying areas where I would likely require one.
    S, my job is downtown, not in WS. I work in a law firm, and those are pretty much everywhere. The biggest hurdle with relocating is that when you find a place with cheaper housing/cost of living, it usually comes with lower salaries too. I took a 20% pay cut when I moved here from NYC, for instance. I’m also in my 50s and with disabilities, and they can say all they want that they don’t discriminate based on age and disability, but that’s a reality too in job hunting. So, lots to weigh.
    Fortunately, I was lucky enough to lock into a 2 year lease on my last renewal and have 18 more months at what I consider a reasonable rent for the area. We’ll see what the future brings.

  • AmandaKH April 24, 2015 (10:45 am)

    Maybe we should focus on controlling the rate at which these hikes happen. So for instance, if a 10% increase is planned, give tenants 30 days notice. If 20%, 60 days. 30%, 90 days. Anything over 30% should be a full 6 months notice. If these changes happen outside of the tenant agreement, the owner needs to pay for moving expenses. You can only control rent on government owned properties, ie SHA.
    The reason this is happening is because older buildings are being bought for market rate prices on the LAND, not on the building. If a property costs $1,000,000 – then the owner needs to charge rent (or sell a condo) at what it costs to recoup the mortgage, TI (tenant improvements) and taxes. If there are only 12 older units – each unit will cost a lot more to rent. If the owner tears it down and builds a 100 unit building, it will lower the cost of the rent.
    Displacement is a real thing – and there is no one size fits all answer – but we can start by giving people a reasonable amount of time to move. And we need to be building more housing on city owned properties for lower and fixed income people.
    The focus on rentals is not sustainable either. The main difference between poor and rich people is rich people own property. If you want to help in the long run, we need to find a way for people to Buy into the neighborhoods they are living in.

  • civik April 24, 2015 (11:12 am)

    A, I think it may have more to do with the mom & pop rentals didn’t take profitability into account. New owners come in with a sense of creating a profit and they want to create a certain value or percentage and really don’t care how they get there.

    As for the new homeless camps, it sounds like that’s how our new mayor wants to handle the affordability problem. Just build more homeless camps.

  • skeeter April 24, 2015 (11:23 am)

    I enjoy living in West Seattle. But I’m aware that one day my employer will be able to find someone younger/smarter/faster/cheaper to do my job. Then I’ll look to move to a less expensive area such as Burien or Renton. Or if I’m retired then even further out. Every stage of my life has been equal parts adventure and challenge. I don’t expect that to change.

  • ChefJoe April 24, 2015 (11:31 am)

    AmandaKH, your rent notice scale sounds somewhat worse at the low end. Currently, 10% or more increase (over a 12 month period) gets 60 days notice. Any increase/change gets 30 days.

    I would also suggest that your “must recoup cost of mortage, etc” idea does not acknowledge the value of the asset…. a common pitfall when discussing rental properties. A landlord can play the long game and charge rent at a loss for the first half of a mortgage and, as market rent rises, make money in the later half. They’re not going to drop the rent when they make their last mortgage payment.

  • skeeter April 24, 2015 (11:54 am)

    ChefJoe makes a good point. These new apartment complexes shooting up with studio rents over $1,000 per month might actually be losing money the first few years. As rents rise and the borrowed principal balance drops they will break even. Then after 10+ years they will begin to make a profit.

  • AmandaKH April 24, 2015 (11:57 am)

    ChefJoe – Well, I wouldn’t advocate for making it any worse, that’s for sure! And you are correct, unless the market were to tank (Mt Rainier erupts for instance) they wouldn’t charge less because they owe less. If owners are playing a game with their investments, maybe we need to find a way to change the rules of the game.

  • Mike Buchman April 24, 2015 (12:10 pm)

    Solid Ground has a great web-based resource that summarizes and explains landlord-tenant law in Washington state and helps identify remedies or approaches to dealing with common problems. You can access it at: http://www.solid-ground.org/Tenant/Pages/default.aspx

    Mike Buchman
    Communications Director
    Solid Ground

  • Jim April 24, 2015 (12:12 pm)

    @m – Banks make money on the interest rate spread. When they get free money from the Fed (0% interest), they do quite well. All that money creation goes into inflation (housing costs). With wages and rates on savings well below inflation rates, the Federal Reserve (a corporation) is stealing our ability to keep up.

  • Diane April 24, 2015 (1:34 pm)

    thanks Mike Buchman; unfortunately, the questions I asked of your Solid Ground rep re tenants getting help when landlords are in violation; the suggestion I was given was to contact DPD or OCR; if you read a big comment upstream here (Vincent) who has tried repeatedly to get assistance, he hasn’t been able to get any help; the gist from yesterday was that nearly all the burden is on the renter to prevent/protect their rights, and nearly zero alternatives if the landlord is in violation; unless the renter can afford a lawyer, which obviously most cannot

  • Diane April 24, 2015 (1:35 pm)

    my question was re the “tenant screening portability bill”; which has been proposed several years in Olympia, and died in the Senate; just weeks before Sally Clark resigned as CM, I asked her to sponsor a “tenant screening portability bill” in Seattle; she basically blew it off; so yesterday I asked CM Rasmussen to sponsor a “tenant screening portability bill” in Seattle; I will continue to be a squeaky wheel on this; it’s just one tool, but could be immediate helpful tool; when renters get forced out of their apts due to insane rent, and have to go looking for another place to live, currently the screening fees are insanely expensive ($40+); and it has become one of the many profit machines for landlords/PM to require every single potential renter to pay exorbitant fees at every single potential apt, even though it’s the exact same information; a “tenant screening portability bill” would allow an applicant to pay one reasonable fee (say $25) and carry that with them (portable) to multiple apts to apply, for a limited amount of time (say 60 days); under current practices, it can cost someone who’s already extremely financially stressed by too-high-rent, another $200+ just for the screening fees, to apply for new apts; that’s is ridiculous

  • Diane April 24, 2015 (1:37 pm)

    It was also pointed out by the tenant rights advocates, that one of the loopholes landlords use to raise the rent as much as possible within the 30 days, is to raise it 9.9%; there are so many loopholes out there used by the bad guy developers & landlords that force good renters out (it also gives the good landlords a bad rep); some of our city council members have finally become aware of many of these loophole strategies to force renters out, due to strong advocacy by tenant rights advocates, and thankfully finally taking steps to address some of these issues

  • Diane April 24, 2015 (1:44 pm)

    It was good to see several of our District 1 City Council candidates at this critically important affordable housing forum at the West Seattle Senior Center; in attendance: Chas Redmond, Shannon Braddock, Phil Tavel, and Pavel Goberman (unfortunately, due to this being a noon forum, I’m sure Lisa Herbold, Amanda Helmick, Brianna Thomas, were unable to attend because of their day jobs
    fyi, seattlechannel recorded the entire event, so everyone can view as soon as it becomes available online; and I will be watching for it on TV ch 21
    the City Hall affordable housing event last night with CM’s Licata and Sawant and many affordable housing leaders, played this morning on TV ch 21, so it should be available online now; highly recommend watching both of these informative forums about our housing crisis and proposed solutions
    so sorry to see that city council candidate Tom Koch has dropped out of the race; I want to thank Tom for his advocacy re affordable housing
    and thanks to TR for comprehensive detailed coverage of this affordable housing forum at the Sr Ctr

  • A April 24, 2015 (2:45 pm)

    Diane, the problem with your “tenant screening portability bill” is that landlords don’t trust anything coming directly from you- they want the info directly from the companies that perform the background checks so it cannot be adulterated. I don’t blame them. Plenty of tenants would hide black marks if given the chance.

    The only way this would work is if some private screening company agreed to allow many landlords access to your records within a 60 day window if you (the tenant) paid the fee. This doesn’t need a politician to happen, just a bright business person and enough name recognition that landlords are familiar with the service and trust it.

    In the meantime, if you are getting rejected so often you should find out the reason why, and discuss it with potential landlords before submitting a formal application so you’re not wasting money. Don’t need a new law, just a phone conversation.

  • Invisible Hand April 24, 2015 (3:03 pm)

    Sadly, we don’t even have enough ice floes left to set these folks adrift on. Guess you should have found a job with Amazon or the finance sector instead of retiring!

  • Screened Out April 24, 2015 (3:16 pm)

    As to the problem of screening fees, here’s a bonus: applying for an apartment in Lynnwood (yes, I hear you screaming ‘go away if you can’t pay your illegal rent raise*’) required not only a $50 application fee, but a $200 ‘administrative fee.’ For what, I ask? Oh, getting the lease documents together and everything. Seems like a lot of overhead, considering the lease offered was last updated 6 years and doesn’t even have the name of the current management company on it.

    And the recourse is what? Small claims court, in 90 days maybe I can ding some random company for $100? That doesn’t even touch the 20% raise I’ve seen in the last 8 months, and I’m kinda busy trying to find somewhere to live.

    *My WS landlord (hardly alone here) also failed to give the required 60-days notice on that raise – but so what? Your options are:

    1) refuse to pay it, and face an eviction suit which will disqualify you from EVER renting again, even if you win… or

    2) pay the money, and again hope that 90 days later in small claims court you might get some of it back.

    If your landlord does finally have to return your money, the 95% of the tenants who just paid up will more than offset whatever premium ‘court costs’ are imposed. As to attorney’s fees, attorneys aren’t even allowed in small claims court. Good luck consulting with one for a dollar amount in the hundreds. (Shout-out to the Tenants Union, NW Justice Project, and the other resources out there struggling to keep people afloat.)

    Let’s get some punitive damages where landlords are blatantly violating the law. I sent mine a letter quoting the SMC ordinance and the response was ‘so?’

  • S April 24, 2015 (3:20 pm)

    @Diane: Our rental tenant screening service charges us $35 a whack. And we legally have to take all applications until we get someone who works credit/salary-wise.

    I dearly wish we made money on it! It’s time-consuming and frustrating to go through applicants, especially those you are fairly certain won’t make the credit scores. Then, you feel awful that you’ve just taken someone’s $ when they can’t afford the place and–if your business skills are as sucky as mine–you give it back to them, putting you further in the red.

    The bigger businesses are smarter than this and possibly add a small $5 processing fee. But I seriously doubt they’re making any money on the screening process. 35–60 is standard credit/criminal check.

  • Taxed April 24, 2015 (5:36 pm)

    Social housing, affordable housing, homeless housing, veterans housing, “non-market rental units” – just more warm and fuzzy names for welfare housing. Goes well with Workforce Housing, Senior housing, subsidized housing, public housing, supportive housing, income based housing, Section 8 housing, HUD housing, Mixed Housing, etc… No matter what you call it – if it is means tested – it is Welfare Housing. Period.
    Another case of somebody getting their bills paid by somebody else who had to earn the money but cannot spend it on their own family. Not fair no matter what you call it. I am a vet and a senior who saved and planned for retirement. I had my rough times. That meant going without many things along the way but I went without those things so as not to be a burden on others. Now I get taxed to pay for other people’s housing while paying for my own housing. What part of that is fair? What part???

  • Rebecca April 24, 2015 (6:03 pm)

    I’m reading all of this with fascination, thank you for another great article wsb! I have been keeping up with the issue through many outlets, blogs, etc. and it makes me very sad. We are a very modest income family of four who, up until 2012 when house prices in West Seattle and nearby surrounds were last affordable to people like us , were renters in a small mom and pop building in West Seattle for many years. We were paying at the top of what was a comfortable amount of rent for us, but wanted very much to seize on the opportunity to buy at that time. By an amazing stroke of luck, we did,and given everything thats happened with the housing market since then, we thank our lucky stars every single day. We in effect were able to stabilize our housing cost. We have since learned rents went way up in our old building, so much so that we would have been priced out of it and everything else I see listed in this area. I shudder to think where we would be right now if things had gone even a little differently. I wanted to throw out this information to anyone who might be able to use it, its not ultimately what we used to buy a home but the idea is interesting and may help us someone who wants to stay in this area long term, achieve that goal. There are many “land trust” non profits in our area.As I understand it they offer down payment assistance that enables buyers to purchase a home, while the land beneath it is put in trust so that, when the “owner” is ready to sell, he/she may sell the house at market value, but not the land, which stays in the trust. This is meant to ensure some level of affordability in perpetuity. Anyway, I may not have explained it fully or well, but encourage anyone interested to google “seattle land trust” or some variation to see what I’m talking about. I have zero affiliation with any of these companies, just looked into them when I was a buyer on “the verge” and thought it represented a cool alternative. Best wishes to the speakers mentioned in the article!

  • ts April 24, 2015 (6:16 pm)

    Never thought i would say that i couldn’t afford to pay rent so I bought a house.

  • 4000 block April 24, 2015 (6:21 pm)

    Reading through this is interesting. I’m not sure that people truly appreciate the situation. We are not in some backwoods we are 10 mins from downtown Seattle in a neighborhood w amazing scenery and a variety of housing options. Yes, Seattle one of the hottest economies in the country that is in a major boom. What do you think will happen? Everyone including developers, landlords, the city, people who can afford to buy are going to make their investment, cash grab or whatever. It stinks but living in a neighborhood is not an inherent right. If the market changes and landlords can make more from their investment are they supposed to not do it? I just don’t get it. And the push back on application fees – it’s not like they’re free to run! (Mysterious “admin fees” are lame though) I know I may sound harsh but if not for this process cities wouldn’t grow. I’m not opposed to looking at some ways to ease the pain this is causing. To blame developers and landlords for playing within the rules of a game dictated by law is wrong. Their job is to make money not be Robin Hood.

  • cliss April 24, 2015 (8:50 pm)

    At 38 years old I own two homes in the higher end areas of west Seattle…I’m not at all saying this to brag but rather to explain what struggles I have had when the market hit rock bottom. Trying to keep afloat for so long and now finally making a great profit on these homes. It took quite a while but now I actually can pay two mortgages with one rental home. It’s awesome and its about time!! We are not all greedy landlords we just have paid for these properties for so many years that it is time to be rewarded. If you don’t like it leave west seattle to an area like kent or burien. You have options west seattle just might not be it for you anymore.

  • Michelle April 25, 2015 (10:11 am)

    Beautifully written Cliss.

  • trickycoolj April 25, 2015 (10:35 am)

    @S my 82 year old grandfather and his 85 year old significant other, live in GH County. It’s an hour for them to drive to a basic doctors appointment. Both have artificial heart valves, she’s a diabetic with serious blood clotting and history of stroke, he’s developed bladder cancer that was repeatedly missed by the rinky-dink clinic in Montesano and the rural hospital in Chehalis. It’s yet another hour in another direction to St Pete’s in Olympia where they sent him to see a specialist in Seattle. I also fear if either has a medical emergency how long is it going to take for the volunteer medics to get to them? Not many seniors have the ability to drive either. Cataracts, macular degeneration, strokes, seizures, Alzheimer’s and dementia are all reasons seniors shouldn’t be driving over an hour for weekly appointments. What kind of mass transit do you offer outside of Aberdeen? Oakville? Elma? The Chehalis Reaervation? That’s what I thought. Most residences can’t even get internet faster than 26k dialup. So you won’t attract younger working renters either, no one can effectively find and apply for employment with dialup Internet. Oh and I forgot to mention the flood prone Chehalis River that cuts off residents from half of their major routes to town on an almost annual basis. It’s a wonder my Grandfather bothered to keep his property after my grandmother passed but there’s no chance it will ever sell for a reasonable price. Grays Harbor County is merely a pass thru to the coast.

  • Peter dewey April 25, 2015 (9:57 pm)

    If you don’t own your house, this will be you.

    It’s a lot now, but rent keeps up with inflation. Over time, your mortgage won’t.

    Sounds callous, but no one owes cheap housing to anyone else.

  • DWS April 25, 2015 (11:11 pm)

    Other communities have tackled this by getting a nonprofit REIT to buy some apartment buildings in their area.The REIT makes a modest 7% profit while supporting low cost housing rather than the usual 27% a regular REIT makes Like the one that owns Junction47. One is called Housing Partnership Network. Why West Seattle hasn’t pushed for this is a mystery.
    Once we have our own representation maybe it will be.

  • JEN April 28, 2015 (4:17 pm)

    Oh – I just have to laugh at all those people who are so smug – thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to them and that if something bad does happen, well, you are just unlucky, too bad. Or worse, lazy, dumb etc. Gee – how can that be when the very same person when they had a job, insurance, and health was seen as smart,and responsible? Hmmmmm. I lost my house last year because of a divorce decree that was no honored and extenuating circumstances. I paid a mortgage on time for 25 years for that house and lost it. Now I have to leave Seattle. I never thought renting was safe. But gee, I guess I am just owed nothing and too bad for me, right Dewey Pete?

  • Mary Mitchell April 29, 2015 (6:30 pm)

    Thanks for a great article that has really brought out a lot of comments!

  • Roxy April 29, 2015 (8:59 pm)

    Late to the game but here is another resource: Do a word search on the DPD web site for – Property Owner or Tenant Assistance (POTA handles just cause eviction and tenant relocation assistance information) You can find information about the City laws including what landlords are required to do. If they don’t they are in violation and the POTA group might be able to help.

Sorry, comment time is over.