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The rent is too damn high: Which candidate will fix that?

Apartment buildings in the University District, Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott
File photo

One thing all of the candidates running for Seattle City Council Position 8 agree on: The rent is too damn high. But they're divided on what to do about it. 

Rental prices in Seattle are beyond jaw-dropping. On the high end, a three-bedroom apartment goes for $12,000 a month. But with the city growing by dozens of people every day, landlords are jacking up prices at all levels: the median rental price here in Seattle has almost doubled since 2011, according to Zillow. 

While some renters can afford to pay the price, others struggle. Esther Little Dove John has lived in Seattle since the early 1980s, and she's rented in a building on North Beacon Hill for over 10 years.

The building currently has four two-bedroom units. But that's about to change. The building's been sold.  And new owner has plans to tear it down and build a complex with 10 times the number of apartments.

In some ways, that sort of densification in exactly what smart growth advocates would want in order to house all of the people pouring into the region every day. 

[asset-images[{"caption": "Esther Little Dove John has lived in Seattle since 1982.", "fid": "138090", "style": "offset_left", "uri": "public://201707/esther.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/David Hyde"}]]But what happens to John? 

"I've been looking around here,” she said, “and it's almost a foregone conclusion that I'll have to move away from Beacon Hill because I can't find anything that I can afford."

And after the recent shooting of Charleena Lyles, John also worries about being forced to move to a less diverse neighborhood.

"Are the police going to come in and shoot me because I don't look like the other people in the neighborhood? I don't know," John said. “It's scary to me.  So, I don't know what's going to happen."

The Candidates for Position 8

Sheley Secrest is vice president of the local NAACP, and she sees the kind of gentrification John is experiencing happening in many parts of the city.  "My role is to figure out what causes that and how do we stop it," Seacrest said. 

Secrest is one of the candidates running for Seattle City Council Position 8 this year. And all of the candidates agree, strategies like rent control or rent stabilization are not currently allowed under Washington state law.

But Secrest and three other candidates want that law changed to help low-income renters. 

One of those candidates is Jon Grant. He's the former head of a tenant advocacy group.

"When we talk about rent regulation,” Grant said, “this is really about addressing price gouging. This is about profiteers and speculation, and people who are just squeezing people dry for every penny.”

Another candidate, Teresa Mosqueda, also wants state law to change: "I absolutely think that we need to have rent stabilization as a tool in our tool belt," she said.  Mosqueda is political director for the Washington State Labor Council. And like the other candidates who support rent control or stabilization, until that changes, Mosqeuda has proposed a range of other strategies to help low-income renters.

Mac McGregor is also running for Position 8.  McGregor is the first transgender candidate for city government, and he supports rent control.

On the other side of the rent control debate, the candidates for Position 8 include Sara Nelson. She owns Fremont Brewing. Nelson says rent controls will help some people stay in their current homes, but she compares rent control to “drinking to cure a hangover.  It might feel good but it's not solving the problem, it is making it worse."

Nelson says other cities that have tried it — like San Francisco and New York — are among the most expensive in the country.

Longtime Ballard resident and candidate Rudy Pantoja is also against rent controls. As is Charlene Strong. She's a small business owner, who also chairs the Washington State Human Rights Commission.

"The unintended consequence of rent control is that we could see fewer units available,” Strong said. “I do not want to see anything that bogs us down, I want us to become creative."

Hisam Goueli goes even further. He's a 39-year-old Arab American Muslim doctor, who says flatly: “rent controls do not work.” And Goeuli compares ignoring the many economic studies that reach that conclusion to rejecting the near-consensus among scientists that climate change is occurring.  

Year started with KUOW: 2004