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Seattle Rental Market Pushing Out More Than Just The Poor

Tagged under: News Seattle Washington Re-Entry Housing

Politics
By Expeal on December 13, 2015.

A picture of the Seattle skyline.

Seattle's real estate has been booming, and along with that rents have jumped. While next year's rents may not go up as much as they have over the previous years, they are still expected to go up. The average rent for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit is $1,871 in Belltown, Downtown, and South Lake Union (up 4.1% from a year ago) and $1,063 in Rainier Valley (up 8.4% from a year ago). If the price isn't prohibitive enough, a criminal record can be the nail in the coffin for a prospective tenant. That is where Fair and Accessible Rentals for Everyone, commonly called FARE, steps in to the mix.

FARE has joined with a large number of citywide and statewide organizations to begin a movement called "Coalition For A FARE Seattle" that will protect "the rights of people involved in the criminal justice system" to provide affordable rental housing for a group of Seattle citizens that have it far worse than the rest. The Coalition is launching their campaign with a public forum and discussion to take place tomorrow, December 14, 2015, in South Seattle. It will take place from 6 to 8 pm at NewHolly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave South, Seattle, WA 98118.

The Coalition's report, FARE Chances, Strong Communities (PDF warning), outlines not only what they hope to achieve but also outlines the reason why their goal is important to the community of Seattle as a whole.

  • First and foremost, the community should strive to be fairer to one another. When someone makes a mistake, they should be given a chance to start over. You cannot reclaim full responsibility for your life if circumstances are set up such that it is impossible to get back on your feet.
  • Secondly, housing should be accessible. We discussed previously how landlords tend to reject tenants with criminal records, creating areas where the concentration of those with records is much higher than those without. In Seattle, they want to make sure housing laws are given the teeth needed to set aside policies that segregate or discriminate.
  • Third, the American Dream has long had a home as a cornerstone of what it means. Shelter is a basic need for anyone, but most especially children. Allowing people a chance to live in a neighborhood that has the resources people need to succeed is a key part of the Coalition's goals.
  • Fourth, and finally, is the idea of family. Seattle is a town that is growing quickly and these groups of long-time citizens and residents want to make sure no one is "left out or left behind." That is not what the community means to them and, they hope, it is not what the community comes to mean in the future.

The importance of this action came when a recent fair-housing test performed by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights resulted in charges being filed against 13 property owners. One of the key findings from the test was that Black and Latino testers were told about criminal background checks more often than their White counterparts. The Mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, pointed out that "housing discrimination is not a thing of the past, but a reality for far too many people in Seattle."

Mayor Murray is no stranger to the problems with housing affordability in Seattle. He created a Housing Affordability and Livability Committee, tasked with finding out the best strategies to improve accessing to housing in Seattle. After months of community meetings, the materials of which are available online, Mayor Murray announced a ten-year roadmap (PDF warning) in July of this year. The plan outlines the issues that need to be tackled and the way in which he intends to go about solving the problems.

Murray pointed out "People who have exited the criminal justice system and paid their debt to society have a right to fair access to housing." Pointing out that Seattle has joined the ban-the-box movement, he continued, stating that "We have eliminated this type of discrimination in employment in Seattle, and it's time that we also prevent discrimination in housing." On that point, FARE wants to ensure that a landlord that denies a tenant based on their criminal record can show a connection between the denial and the tenant's charges.

Not everyone is happy with this organization's intended goals, however. Bill Hinkle, executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Washington has already come out to say they will oppose the FARE proposal. Hinkle stated that he doesn't believe "there's any real support for it in the community. We did some focus groups before. Everybody in Seattle really likes to give people a second chance at employment. But when it comes to who's living next door, people want to know they're safe."

Hinkle was Minority Whip in the Washington State House of Representatives, where he was a state representative for 10 years, representing Lincoln and Kittitas Counties, as well as parts of Grant and Yakima Counties. Prior to that, he was a Kittitas County Commissioner for 6 years. He has also been a Board member of the Washington Health Benefits Exchange since January of 2014 as an appointee of Governor Jay Inslee. His terms is due to expire on December 14, 2015. Groups that support FARE's proposal include Columbia Legal Services, Tenants Union of Washington, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Seattle Women's Commission, Seattle Human Rights Commission, Post-Prison Education Program, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, ACLU of Washington State, King County Native American Leadership Council, and No New Jim Crow Seattle Campaign.

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