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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Contentious 49th District town hall: Residents criticize Sen. Cleveland on rent limit bill

One person from the audience asked, “How many rentals do you own?”

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 8, 2024, 6:02pm

A Saturday town hall hosted by 49th Legislative District lawmakers turned contentious over such hot-button issues as housing and education.

In a packed room at Fourth Plain Community Commons in central Vancouver, some attendees refused to write their questions on notecards as requested, instead voicing their opinions about the outcome of the legislative session that ended March 7.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, received a hefty stack of cards asking why she voted “no” on House Bill 5961, which would have limited rent increases to 15 percent a year.

Some housing advocates have criticized Cleveland for killing the bill.

“We have worked very, very hard over the past number of years now in the Legislature to focus on housing production, to focus on housing preservation, to focus on prevention of homelessness,” Cleveland said. “I’m concerned that the way that the bill was written that I had before me in the Senate Housing Committee, it would actually be counter to much of the work that we have done to increase affordable housing supply and to help better prevent homelessness.”

She said there are “known consequences” to rent caps, such as decreased housing production and discouraging renters from moving. Additionally, she said the bill would have allowed landlords to increase rent by 15 percent year after year.

“The issue here is I don’t know that the solution being proposed is going to actually accomplish what we want it to,” she said.

That drew ire from some attendees. One person from the audience asked, “How many rentals do you own?”

“I don’t own any rentals,” Cleveland responded. “It would be so much easier for me to just look the other way and focus on another bill. But you know what? That’s not my job. That’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to analyze policy, ask hard questions, determine that I’ve looked at the policy from each and every perspective, and ensure that when I cast my vote, yes, it’s actually going to accomplish the goal that is intended.”

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, drew applause when she said she supported the bill. However, she praised Cleveland for working to avoid unintended consequences.

“I have different life experience than my senator. I agree with her on a lot of things, but I would have kept (this bill) going even though it was unlikely to get there in a short session,” Wylie said. “This conversation is not over. This rent stabilization approach isn’t the same as rent control in New York City.”

Wylie said poor policy decisions made at the federal level 50 years ago are responsible for today’s housing and mental health crises.

“It can’t be fixed overnight, but we are committed to doing that work, to listening to everybody and trying to come up with the best policy with the fewest unintended consequences,” Wylie said.

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Attendees also asked the lawmakers about what they are doing to address the opioid crisis.

Cleveland cited House Bill 1956, which will require schools to provide education about fentanyl and other opioids, along with other bills that will extend crisis relief and behavioral health services to young people.

“It is the worst crisis that I think has ever been seen in terms of drugs,” Cleveland said.

Wylie agreed, adding, “It is a monster problem, and it is a moving target.”

Education

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, an instructional coach at Evergreen Public Schools, answered multiple questions about education.

One attendee asked about local budget cuts and why the state isn’t fully funding education.

Stonier responded that she, too, is frustrated about school funding.

“It is why I ran for office in the first place,” she said. “As I have grown in leadership roles, I have done my best to find my way into rooms where decisions are made about K-12 funding. And I think I’ve been a bit successful in that. That does not surface in our legislative budget this year. And I am aware of that.”

She said declining enrollment and loss of pandemic-era funding have led to a “tough situation,” and she implored parents to stay engaged and to look toward the next legislative session, when lawmakers will have more time and resources compared with this year’s short session.

“The only reason we’ve been able to cover the gap for so many years is because we have had those extra funding opportunities, and those are just not sustainable,” Stonier said. “My plea to all of you is to remember how incredibly important it is for the community to continue supporting the efforts of our public school system.”

Stonier also addressed concerns about House Bill 2331, which she introduced and was signed into law. It bolsters the review process for books in school libraries and prevents school boards from removing or restricting instructional materials by protected classes, such as people of color or the LGBTQ+ community.

“It is clear by the data and by reports all across the country that our LGBTQ authors, and books with characters that reflect our LGBTQ community, are the ones that are the most exponentially highest under attack when it comes to book removals,” Stonier said. “When that is the case, then I believe we need to have a policy in place to protect what is already protected in federal law.”

Stonier also addressed Initiative 2081, which created a “parents’ bill of rights” that states what information a parent of a child in a public school is entitled to, including instructional materials.

“The parent initiative that we passed does nothing,” she said. “The far-right proponents of this, they feel quite successful that they have made it fearful for gay kids to get help at school. That was their intent. They also intended to undermine confidence in our public school system. We are not going to let that happen.”

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