Packed In: ‘It’s criminal’: Some think rent caps could help the housing issue, but it’s complicated

SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington is the only state on the West Coast without rent caps. With rents rising over 30 percent this past year in Spokane, some say it’s time to make change.

“I feel it’s criminal. It’s criminal to hike rents that much especially in a place like Spokane,” said Emily Kelly. “I think there should be rent control.”

Kelly’s a longtime renter from Spokane. She’s retired and lives on a fixed income. Seeing her hometown change so rapidly and become increasingly more unaffordable makes her scared about her own housing stability.

“I’ve been worried for years and then with this last year, it’s just gone off the charts,” she said.

This past year, Spokane saw the second highest rent hikes in the country, according to Apartment List. Kelly thinks rent control could help people keep up with the growth, and she’s not alone.

“We get calls every day from tenants who are getting rent increases,” said Terri Anderson, Spokane’s Director for the Tenants Union of Washington.

She says tenants are scared and uncertain as the eviction moratorium bridge program comes to and end at the end of October. She says rent hikes almost serve as forced evictions, and it isn’t easy for people to find somewhere new. Washington’s Center for Real Estate Research says Spokane’s sitting at a 3 percent vacancy. She says discussions about caps are happening.

“There are statewide conversations to get the state to do what Oregon and California did,” Anderson said.

However, some don’t think the option is as good as it sounds.

“Rent control is one of those things that almost every economist agrees on,” said James Young. “It’s not a good thing. It creates more problems than it solves.”

Young is the Director for Washington’s Center for Real Estate Research. He says these kinds of caps shrink supply even more and keep people renting, instead of moving on to buying a home. He adds it also keeps people at the low end of the housing ladder unable to find a place to live. Lastly, he fears caps lead to more homeless issues.

It’s a complicated situation, but finding solutions is necessary so more people like Kelly can stay in a place they love.

“Some things have to change, you know,” Kelly added.

The Tenants Union is bringing these issues to the forefront Thursday, Oct. 14. They’re hosting a community-wide Zoom forum where they’ll ask people running for City Council how they feel they can fix the housing crisis. You can learn more and register for the event here.

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