Fair Chance Rental Housing Legislation

Posted By: Sean Martin Advocacy , Law , Seattle Laws ,

Dear City Councilmembers,

As you’re aware, the Rental Housing Association of Washington represents more than 5,500 small, independent landlords. Our mission is to serve their needs by providing them with property management products and services, education, and to advocate for effective policy on their behalf.

The majority of RHAWA members are not professional property owners. They own and operate, on average, two rental units, in addition to working full-time. Their rental units are their long-term retirement plan.

RHAWA opposes CB 119015 not because of its purpose or mission, but because it represents poor policy which will not succeed, and poses many unintended consequences. A mandate offering no supportive services will not encourage landlords to take chances on under-qualified applicants.

Research cited in CB 119015 as supporting this policy should also be more closely scrutinized for context. In particular, the study summarized in “Assessing Criminal History as a Predictor of Future Housing Success for Homeless Adults With Behavioral Health Disorders” acknowledges its results are based upon homeless individuals receiving DESC supportive housing, which includes 24 hour staffing, psychiatric treatment and counseling, social support, and basic needs. This is in no way comparable to renting private-market housing with no support services in place.

The study’s author, Dr. Malone, writes as much, saying:

“Because the study presented here involved individuals with specific characteristics (lengthy homelessness and behavioral health disorders) who received a particular intervention (supportive housing), generalizing the results of our study to other situations may not be valid. It may be that the robust array of clinical, social, and recreational services tailored to the individual needs of DESC’s supportive housing residents, which has been described in part elsewhere (2,16), is what allows participants with a criminal history to succeed in housing.”

RHAWA recognizes the need for housing solutions for ex-offenders having difficulty finding housing due to prior criminal convictions. However, as the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative recognizes, the barriers ex-offenders face in accessing rental housing are not caused by landlords, but by structural and institutional barriers.

One of the three critical components listed in the Race and Social Justice Initiative to be achieved by 2017 includes a statement that the city will “Work with community-based organizations to support the movement to end structural racism.”

That is a critical step that the Council must take with RHAWA and the rental housing industry as we discuss issues such as access to affordable rental housing. While we appreciate being at the table for stakeholder discussions, we’ve not seen the city willing to work on initiatives of partnership with the rental housing industry to proactively solve problems.

There are solutions that can make a real difference in helping ex-offenders find access to rental housing, and which would also address the three primary concerns landlords have when renting a unit. Those being that an applicant will take care of the unit, pay rent on time, and be a good neighbor. Examples of partnership include:

Landlord Liason Project

This creates certainty for landlords who offer their rentals to the program, and mirrors many of the DESC services cited in Dr. Malone’s study – Guaranteeing deposit payments and funds for damages, offering a 24-hour help line when issues arise, and offering training and other resources. With a proper level of funding from the Housing Levy and administrative expertise, this program is an attractive and effective model.

ADU/DADU Emergency Housing

We support Councilmember Bagshaw's idea of emulating a city of Portland program to create ADU/DADU for emergency housing for homeless and low-income individuals for a period of 5 years in exchange for those construction costs being covered by the city.

Buying Down Rents

Denver's Mayor is creating a program using housing levy dollars to buy-down rents in vacant units for a 3-year period to levels affordable for families making 40% to 80% of the area median income.

Our membership has been clear that CB 119015, on the heels of the First in Time and move-in fee restriction ordinances, places them at higher risk. Their only tools to mitigate that risk are raising screening qualifications standards, or selling their Seattle properties. Neither are positive outcomes for renters or the rental housing market.

We can make meaningful differences when we work on the same page and stay focused on the big picture issues in rental housing – access to, and affordability of, housing.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Sean Martin, External Affairs Director  

Jason Dolloph, Legislative Chair