To Help End Homelessness, Get Landlords On Board

From tents to tenants.

During the public-comment period at Monday’s meeting of the Seattle City Council, Chea Berra, a tenant counselor with the housing nonprofit Solid Ground, told the story of a disabled woman who had reached out for rental assistance.

The woman had been approved for an apartment, Berra said, and had even obtained a letter from the landlord saying so, but was suddenly told that the unit had been given to someone else—someone who had applied after she did. The sudden switch happened, Berra noted, “only after our case manager contacted the landlord about providing move-in assistance. So now, the woman, who recently had a stroke, her disabled son, and disabled elderly mother are on the streets.

“This is what happens,” she continued, her voice rising. “And we should be angry. What does it matter if we as a community come together to help people find and retain homes, if landlords can freely create barriers to housing?”

Berra was speaking in support of an anti-discrimination ordinance that the City Council went on to pass unanimously on Monday—an ordinance that makes it illegal for Seattle landlords to discriminate against renters who use alternative sources of income, such as Social Security Disability Insurance, veterans’ benefits, or pledges from community organizations like Solid Ground. The law requires landlords to give housing to the first qualified tenant who applies—not to cherry-pick those who seem more stable, more wealthy, or, for unnamed reasons, more worthy of a place to live.

The ordinance—which is expected to be signed by Mayor Ed Murray—will be a salve for many frustrated renters in the city, and comes as part of Seattle’s affordability “grand bargain” between tenant advocates and developers.

But at its heart, the new law is really about homelessness and the role the city’s landlords should play in its elimination—addressing the yawning cavern that separates the homeless from the housed.

As Berra asked, how can we say we are coming together as a city to help the thousands of unsheltered to find permanent homes, if we allow the private market to effectively shut them out, even as they use the very public assistance that we’ve made available to help solve the problem? How is it that the city can pour money into short-term rent-assistance programs such as those created by a taxpayer-funded housing levy (which passed with 68 percent of the vote last week) if landlords aren’t required to weigh those applicants equally with other applicants?

How, indeed, can the homeless find housing if we refuse to house them because they’re homeless?

A Washington Community Action Network study conducted recently found that nearly half of all renters in Seattle who rely on Social Security disability or retirement income found that their means of income was a barrier to obtaining housing. And though it’s violated city law for a quarter-century, discrimination against those who pay for housing with federal Section 8 vouchers is also rampant. Last year, the city’s Office of Civil Rights filed 23 charges of discrimination after fair-housing testing showed that nearly two-thirds of tests using Section 8 vouchers resulted in different treatment for those prospective tenants.

“Our city is a city of renters,” ordinance sponsor Councilmember Lisa Herbold said during the City Council meeting on Monday. “Their interests must be protected if we intend to reduce the number of people living homeless.”

Of course, landlords may feel uncomfortable that city law now limits their ability to choose their tenants, weeding out those with seemingly uncertain income on account of the nature of rental assistance. However, those fears should be assuaged by data. City figures show that more than 80 percent of those who use emergency housing assistance to get apartments were still in those apartments six months after the assistance ended. In other words, obtaining housing has the exact stabilizing effects we’d expect it to.

Herbold’s measure will not entirely solve Seattle’s homelessness problem. But it will help, and it will send a clear message: When it comes to the homeless, it is all hands on deck, landlords included.

editorial@seattleweekly.com


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

file photo
Department of Health announces QR code verification program to prove vaccination status

WA Verify is intended to make vaccine verification simpler and more efficient.

Mid-afternoon traffic on northbound Interstate 5 on Nov. 22 near Everett. Dan Bates/The Herald
Thanksgiving traffic forecast is heavier than pre-pandemic

Drivers and ferry riders could be in for long waits, depending on when they go.

Patti Cole-Trindall
King County Executive appoints Patti Cole-Tindall as interim sheriff

Cole-Tindall has a background in the sheriff’s office and county government.

Comparison map between current district map and proposed draft. (Screenshot from King County’s website)
King County proposes redistricting map, asks for feedback from public

Public invited to comment at November 30 public hearing.

Elaine Simons, former foster mother of Jesse Sarey, addresses a crowd outside the Maleng Regional Justice Center on Aug. 24, 2020, moments after Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson was formally charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the May 31, 2019, shooting death of 26-year-old Sarey in front of a north Auburn convenience store. File photo
Jesse Sarey’s family wants people to know who the real Jesse was

He was killed by Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson in 2019.

A Snoqualmie Officer was involved in a shooting Tuesday night, Nov. 16. Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Police Department.
Man killed by Snoqualmie Police was homeless, living in car

The 33-year-old man who was killed by a Snoqualmie police officer late… Continue reading

The Washington State Redistricting Commission held a public meeting over Zoom on Monday night to draw the final legislative and congressional district boundaries. Most of the five-hour session was spent in "caucus meetings" which were unavailable to the viewing public. (Washington State Redistricting Commission)
Bipartisan commission fails to draw new political boundaries

For the first time in state history, the Supreme Court will define new congressional and legislative districts.

courtesy of PropertyShark
State’s richest zip codes are all in East King County, according to home value study

Medina zip code ranks among top 10 most affluent in the nation.

file photo
One-car collision on I-5 near Southcenter kills two 19-year-olds

According to the incident report, neither the passenger or driver were wearing seatbelts.

Most Read