Rent Control

In June 1976, City Council received a petition spearheaded by Marie Donohoe to enact rent control legislation. After receiving comments from Mayor Uhlman, a three-hour public hearing was held by the Public Safety and Justice Committee on January 11, 1977. The hearing was held in the San Juan Room at Seattle Center and over 400 people attended. On January 25, 1977, the Committee voted on the proposed legislation; it did not make it out of committee. Clerk File 283649 contains Marie Donohoe's petition and related correspondence.

Randy Revelle: Okay, Marie Donohoe?

Marie Donohoe: May it please the City Council. I started out with the scales weighted against me. I have been allotted fifteen minutes in which to speak, and the opponents of rent control, the Apartment House Owners Association and the Mayor, have been allotted twenty-five minutes to speak. I think it would be most unfair if I were to be cut off after fifteen minutes. Now, I notice that there are probably 410 representatives of the landlords here tonight. The tenants are not out; most of them are elderly, and poor, without transportation who are scared to go out at night...

Mr. Wilkinson will speak for the Mayor. I read his recommendations to the City Council against rent control and it could have been written by Mr. Haas, the landlord representative. After I read it, I sent to the public disclosure commission for the mayor's financial statement. And, as I expected, he is heavily invested in real estate. If John Miller votes against rent control, I will not be surprised. He too, is heavily invested in real estate...

Now some of you may have read Rick Anderson's column in the November 16th issue of the P-I. It's titled "Where Everything is Legal." It starts out, "The Mayor and his Policy and Planning staff recently walked all over a plan for rent control for the City."...

Absence of rent control has made it possible for rich landlords to pick up gold on the streets of Seattle.

[laughter]

Donna McArthur: Several months ago, I was asked by the apartment house owners to make a study of rent control as it exists in its varations, and especially a study of rent control as presented by Miss Donohoe. The one thing I feel absolutely sure of as a result of this study, is that in no way will the proposed ordinance have the effect that it is advertised to have by its proponents to have. It is a cruel hoax on the elderly and low income people of this city to hold out to them the hope that their rents are going to be rolled back to the January 1975 level...

What, in effect, they are asking the apartment house industry to do, is to subsidize the people on low incomes and the elderly who cannot afford housing... We are not unaware or unfeeling about their plight. But it is not fair to ask one segment of the population to take on the subsidizing of this group.

Russell Farrell: I assure you that the apartment house owners are not picking up gold in the streets of Seattle. I've spent 40 years saving and working sometimes two jobs, saving my money. I drive a Mazda, a 1972 station wagon, and a lot of my tenants drive Cadillacs. And I can't afford a Cadillac. But I go down and I fix the garbage grinders and I do things like this and this kind of thing is what makes my apartment house pay money. But Marie Donohoe doesn't think about that, she counts the gross... When you have a business, they all say, look at the money that this guy makes. But they don't stop to think of the expenses that he has. Well now, actually the expenses are such that I think maybe we should have a rule that maybe we could get triple damages and return on all of our expenses, and I hope that if the City decides to pass this thing, they'll decide to pass it in such a way that we can get triple damages for all our overcharges for the past 26 months, just like she's proposing.

Elisabeth Garlichs: I'm Elisabeth Garlichs... I represent Senior Services Information and Assistance. As you Councilmembers are aware, we are an information service for older people, their friends, their relatives and service providers who call us to ask us about services available to older people in King County. By telephone and by home counseling, we help older people get in touch with services they need. Of the 1500 calls, say, we get in a month, a very large number cluster around the issue of housing. So while you are studying the possibilities of rent control I thought you'd be interested in our experience with the people who telephone us.

Our telephone advocates report that they are getting 10-15 calls a month from older persons who have rent increases. Most of the rent increases appear to be around $10-$15 a month. Many of the people report that this is the second or third increase in 12 to 18 months. Most of the callers live on fixed incomes of around $200 a month. Most are eligible for public housing, but you're aware that the waiting list is very long for public housing, besides which, some people don't wish to move from neighborhoods in which they are well established and settled. Many older people have pets, and it's a very important part of their lives and a very traumatic experience for them to consider moving to another place which will not allow pets. One client called us in December 1976 stating that her rent had been raised from $60 to $116 per month. Her total income per month was under $200, her assets amounted to $1,000, which you know would not last long in supplementing her rent. She had no family or support system to turn to. In December, we also had a report of several evictions from the same building. The new owner of the building was evicting three or more elderly tenants; we only heard from three. All of them indicated that there were others in the building being evicted. At least half of the people who call us about their rent increases report that they have new owners of the building... Callers express to us fear about complaining about rent increases for fear this will agitate further increase. They also fear to discuss complaints about safety hazards or other maintenance problems because of the impact it might have on rent. This is the information we have for you. I hope it will be helpful in making your decision.

The entire meeting can be heard here.

Citation: Public Safety and Justice Committee meeting, January 11, 1977. Event ID 3481, Seattle City Council Legislative Department Audio Recordings.