Tacoma's Residents' Opinions: Perspectives on Rental Housing, Landlords, and Policy


On October 7 RHAWA partnered with DHM Research—a non-partisan public opinion research firm—to conduct two focus groups of Tacoma residents who were undecided about an upcoming rental restriction measure. In addition to questions regarding Tacoma’s Measure 1 participants were also asked about rental housing providers, tenant responsibilities, and rent control. Here are some of the key takeaways.

All housing providers are not bad.
In fact, the opposite is true. We asked participants if they thought it was okay for property owners to rent out their property to make a return on their investment and participants overwhelmingly said “yes.” While perceptions of rental housing providers were not universally positive, when asked what words or phrases come to mind when they think about “landlords” many shared things like “business owner” and “community member.” Multiple participants in both groups shared stories of previous landlords that they felt treated them with respect and a safe high-quality living space. 

People are particularly supportive of small landlords.
All of those positive stories included a personal tenant-housing provider relationship; people feel better when they know and interact with the person they are renting from. That attitude persisted throughout the conversation; from perceptions to policy changes, participants felt much more positively about small-scale housing providers. On the flip side, participants consistently expressed negativity toward “corporate” housing providers. Even when their analysis lacked clarity, their message did not. Participants want to disincentivize large-scale corporate housing providers from entering or growing in their community.

Tenants should Honor the rental agreement.
When discussing the respective responsibilities in the tenant-housing provider relationship, the takeaway was clear. Tenants should do what they agree to do: pay their rent on time, take care of the property, and be a good neighbor. Of course, most in the room conveyed that a single missed or late payment should not be grounds for eviction, and that good housing providers allow for open communication on such topics. However, the prevailing opinion was that eviction is an appropriate course of action if a tenant breaks their rental agreement and reasonable communication to resolve the issue has taken place. 

Participants communicated that eviction is particularly appropriate, and in many cases necessary, if a tenant is breaking the rental agreement by conducting criminal activity. They believe housing providers hold the responsibility of maintaining safe living conditions for tenants, which includes evicting neighbors that make a living community less safe. In situations where criminal activity occurs, most participants thought housing providers should have more power to evict the tenant and to do so in a relatively short period.  

This audience was unfamiliar with rent control, how it functions, and possible outcomes. 
When asked if they knew what “rent control or rent stabilization” was most did not. Even among those who said they knew about rent control, very few could articulate what it was. After explanation, it remained unclear whether or not folks understood how rent control would function and how it might impact their community. We shared messaging for and against rent control, but nothing resonated. The most common theme we pulled from the rent control conversation is that people convey a desire for contradictory outcomes. They do not want corporate housing providers to be able to increase rents, but they don’t want to limit small housing providers from being able to charge more as the cost of ownership rises. It appears that those who are not already firm in a political stance on rent control are mostly unfamiliar. 

Participants did respond positively to other policy options to address increasing housing costs. Providing tax breaks for small rental housing providers who rent out their units below market rate was universally popular among participants, and many spoke positively about short-term gap vouchers for people experiencing financial distress.

 DHM Research is a team of highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals who bring curiosity, focus and integrity to our work. We relish opportunities to dive into weighty topics and bring clarity to complex challenges.