Find of the Month

April 2021 - Rent Stabilization

Quinault Apartments, 1954

During World War II, federal restrictions were enacted to stabilize rents, starting with areas crucial to defense industries and eventually spreading to almost all cities. By the early 1950s, the federal government was beginning the process of winding down the restrictions, and Seattle was discussing whether to use municipal regulations to keep some kind of rent control on the books.

Renters wanted the limitations to stay in place, arguing that affordable housing was almost impossible to find, and that even with the constraints their rent had been going up significantly. One writer described the current situation this way:

1. Housing costs range from $80.00 a month up to $150.00, permitting no children or pets. 2. Housing at $35.00 a month for a place that would not pass city health sanitation requirements and not fit to rear your children in. 3. Buying a home that most people can not afford.

Quite a few tenants who wrote letters to the city council did not sign their names, saying they were afraid of retaliation from their landlords.

The congressman representing Seattle in Washington DC, Rep. Hugh Mitchell, encouraged the city council to keep restrictions in place. He expressed concern that Boeing and other defense industries would not be able to attract workers if Seattle’s housing market was too expensive, and noted that while a federal housing program had built many new apartments, most of them were too costly for lower income families.

Apartment owners, on the other hand, were ready for the regulations to expire. One writer contended that “local rent decontrol will simply rid the property owners of a lot of unnecessary red tape, give him his cherished American liberty, and the opportunity to sit down with his fellow men and make mutual agreements.” Another was less measured, claiming rent control was being advocated by “a ranting snarling mob of communists.”

In the end, the federal regulations were retired and the city opted not to create local laws to replace them.