A few days ago, a particularly disturbing article was published in The Stranger that revealed landlords in our city are actively offering discounts and incentives to those working for “preferred employers”. What exactly does this mean? It means that some of our city’s wealthiest residents are being offered housing discounts while our low-income residents are being saddled with extra costs, like holding and application fees on top of first and last months rent and security deposits. If that math seems off to you, that’s because it is.
This issue is especially threatening to the pursuit of equity in our city because it’s not discrimination, it’s preference. Preference for those that make more money at the expense of those that are living meal-to-meal. If you want to know what privilege looks like, this is it. Many cities in our state have attempted to combat this sort of income discrimination by making it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against tenants using Section 8 housing vouchers, Seattle included. Unfortunately, it seems landlords believe they have found a loophole, making the application process more difficult for one economic class of renters while making it easier for another.
As a former civil rights attorney, this is just the kind of issue I’m accustomed to tackling – successfully. Those who are elected to Seattle’s City Council on November 3rd must take the lead on protecting all of our city’s residents. We must pass legislation making preferential renting practices illegal within the Seattle city limits. Only after Council legislation is crafted and passed can serious efforts begin to track and end these practices. We have to legislate for equity now, not wait until the damage is done to react.
Throughout this campaign season, we have spoken constantly about the growing affordability crisis in our city but struggle to identify ways to address it. An affordability crisis like this doesn’t appear overnight or have one distinct cause. Rather, it creeps in, hurting our most vulnerable citizens first, fueling discriminatory practices as even our highest earning residents struggle to find reasonable housing. How can we expect the people of Seattle to succeed together when we constantly allow the deck to be stacked against some? We can’t. We must not.