Washington State Senate, Consumer Protection and Housing Committee
January 25, 2007
Testimony of City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen
Good morning Chairman Weinstein and honorable members of the committee.
I am Tom Rasmussen. I am a member of the Seattle City Council and I chair the Housing, Human Services and Health Committee of the Council.
As is true of so many other communities in Washington, Seattle is struggling to meet the challenge of ensuring that people of all income levels are able to work and live in our community.
Recently we reviewed what is occurring in Seattle’s rental housing market. And we were dismayed with what we learned. What we learned is that there has been a net loss of rental housing in Seattle in 2005 and 2006 primarily due to conversion of apartments to condominiums.
Let me give you a perspective of the phenomenon that we are experiencing. In 2004, 430 apartments were converted. In 2005, 1551 apartments were converted and last year 2,352 apartments were converted.
Primarily due to conversions, the amount of rental housing declined by about 167 units in Seattle in 2005-2006, contributing to reduced vacancies and rising rents.
Nearly 4,000 rental units or about 3% of the rental stock were converted to condominiums. This loss was not fully offset by private market and subsidized rental housing construction (2,955 units), or by the estimated 20% of conversion units that continue to be rentals (per Dupre and Scott).
This experience is not limited to Seattle I have read reports that other communities such as Auburn, Federal Way, Bremerton and Lynnwood are experiencing larger numbers of conversions.
People whose apartments are being converted are facing a very difficult situation.
Because of the improving economy, with more jobs and more people moving to Seattle rents are at a six year high and the current vacancy rate is 3.1%.
A 5% vacancy rate is considered a “healthy” vacancy rate resulting in a balance between the number of available units and reasonable rental levels.
Some lives are very fragile both emotionally and financially. Trying to find a place to live in this housing market after having lived in the same apartment for decades can be devastating. Having to come up with first and last months rent and a damage deposit can costs thousands of dollars also and can be very difficult and the current law needs to be updated and strengthened.
SB 5031 is a great improvement over the current law and after reviewing it I would like to respectfully request changes to the following sections:
- Limitations on construction, remodeling or repair: change language to a more general authority, giving local government more flexibility to work with local property owners and tenant organizations on specific requirements.
- Relocation assistance authorization: amend RCW 82.02.020 to exempt relocation assistance pursuant to this chapter.
- Relocation assistance notification: authorize local government to specify content of notice, require notice to be sent to the local government.
- Relocation amount: clarify that the amount is established by ordinance.
- I would also like to request that language be added to clarify that local jurisdictions have the option of limiting the number of conversions.
I would like to thank the Chair Senator Weinstein and the committee for the opportunity to speak and in particular I would like to thank Senator Ken Jacobson for taking the lead on this and to Senator Darlene Fairley for her early interest, support and work.