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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

‘I just don’t believe this is the right policy’: Sen. Cleveland votes against rent stabilization bill

The bill, which would have limited rent increase to 15 percent or less, effectively dead

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 31, 2024, 2:51pm

Sen. Annette Cleveland on Wednesday voted against a rent stabilization bill that proposed to limit rent increases in Washington to 15 percent or lower depending on the choices of local governments. Her move effectively killed Senate Bill 5961 in committee.

Like its companion bill in the House, the Senate bill originally capped annual rent increases at 5 percent. Legislators voted to amend the language to 15 percent Friday.

“I just don’t believe this is the right policy,” said Cleveland, D-Vancouver. “Sometimes, really simple solutions, when you dig a little deeper, really aren’t a solution at all.”

In a rare maneuver, Cleveland did not cast a vote when Senate Housing Committee discussed the bill Jan. 26. Advocates had been pressuring her to make a decision ever since.

In a press release, Cleveland said her biggest problem with the Senate bill is its core language capping rent increases at 15 percent annually.

“This is stated clearly and unequivocally and would not create a one-time increase; landlords would be able to increase rent by 15 percent year after year, well in excess of the typical economic growth of household salaries and means. The math is brutal. What renter could afford a 15 percent increase in rent with each new year?” she said in the press release.

Since the Senate Housing Committee discussed the bill Jan. 26, Cleveland has been on the phone with economists and housing experts to understand how rent stabilization, although a relief to renters in the short term, could have negative long-term effects.

“I’ve looked at studies that have concluded that the policy actually does drive inequity and gentrification and decreases affordability,” she said. “And so those are the things I’m most concerned about. There’s a whole host of other things.”

Her press release included links to several studies that conclude rent stabilization drives up rents, has the potential to harm people with lower incomes and people of color, and reduces the stock of affordable housing.

“None of this surprises me. I vividly remember, as inflation rose in the 1970s, how the Nixon administration imposed price controls in an attempt to curb inflation and the hardships it brought to my parents’ household and to our neighbors throughout the Vancouver area,” she said. “However well-intentioned, the policy was a dismal failure that set back our economy and inflicted lasting economic harm on everyone we knew.”

Cleveland said the rent-capping language from SB 5961 was overlaid onto another bill, SB 6211, which aims to create clarity and consistency in rental agreements under the manufactured home landlord-tenant act. She also opposed that bill.

On Tuesday, Cleveland heard pleas to vote “yes” on SB 5961 from Clark County residents who face homelessness due to rent increases. Cleveland said this was a difficult and emotional decision for her. As a child, she also faced losing her home.

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“I’ve never forgotten the fear and despair that comes with that,” she said in a statement. “I hope more people will seriously weigh the value of doing all we can to fully understand the ramifications of rent control to ensure we don’t inadvertently hurt the very people we want to help.”

Relief and disappointment

William Shadbolt, managing director of the Washington Business Properties Association, is relieved that Cleveland voted “no.”

He believes rent stabilization would reduce the number of rental houses and increase rents overall.

“We have an issue here. We need more housing and not less housing,” he said.

If rent caps go into effect in Washington, he believes landlords will begin to sell their properties. He said he would support a bill on rental assistance vouchers.

“It’s targeted. It’s been tested. It doesn’t benefit the ultrawealthy, as rent control does, and that would help people that are in need and housing providers,” Shadbolt said.

Instead of enacting rent stabilization, Shadbolt believes legislators should work on how to make building more housing attractive to investors and make it easier for smaller landlords to operate.

“The smaller mom-and-pop housing providers are already under a lot of strain with the increased amount of regulations,” he said.

Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy at Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, hears stories of people who can’t pay their rent nearly every day. She’s disappointed another bill that could help them died.

“The renter is the poorest person in this whole chain,” she said.

The studies the opposition cite when arguing rent stabilization lowers housing stock largely focus on areas that aren’t similar to Washington, like San Francisco.

“San Francisco has a completely different law,” she said. “They had some of literally the most restrictive zoning laws in the country at the time that they also passed their rent control law.”

Thomas doesn’t buy the talking point that rent stabilization will decrease the affordable housing stock. She compared it to people arguing raising the minimum wage would close businesses and more restaurant regulations would kill small restaurants.

Previously

Community members, social service providers and people who have been homeless prepare to leave Vancouver for Olympia to advocate for rent stabilization Tuesday for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day. The advocates &mdash; as young as 9 and as old as 77 &mdash; donned red sweatshirts and packed into the bus before dawn.Dozens of Clark County residents travel to Olympia to urge legislators to back rent stabilization
Ninety Clark County residents rode to the Capitol for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day on Tuesday to implore their state legislators to vote…
Sen.Senate rent stabilization bill’s fate hangs in balance with Sen. Cleveland weighing her vote
The fate of a state Senate rent stabilization bill — one of the most eyed bills this legislative session — may lie in the hands…

“The opposition always says the sky is going to fall, and these terrible outcomes will happen and they never do,” she said.

However, advocates are still holding out hope. The House bill that mirrors the Senate bill’s original language, HB 2114, is still alive and made it out of committee.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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