Seattle source of income discrimination legislation raises issue of “What’s in a name?”

14. July 2016 08:13 by Admin

Source of income legislation has slowly worked its way through the legislative process in the city of Seattle, with revised legislation scheduled for a special July 22nd committee meeting.

Among other issues recently legislated in Seattle, this may be the most confusing as it has quickly morphed from “source of income protections” to including regulation of tenant screening practices.

The process was borne out of Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) stakeholder committee last year which found general support for a number of strategies recommended for relieving housing affordability issues in Seattle.

Final HALA recommendations framed the source of income discrimination problem, and directed a specific solution to this issue.

“Renters who receive a verifiable source of ongoing legal income, such as Social Security, child support, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Housing Choice vouchers (or any other governmental or nonprofit subsidy) deserve a rental environment that treats these types of income fairly. Currently, it is illegal under the City’s Fair Housing law to discriminate against a tenant based on the use of a Housing Choice voucher. The City should expand protection to include other verifiable sources of income. Representatives of the City of Seattle, tenant advocates, and local landlords should collaborate in determining which additional sources of income should be protected.”

Setting aside ongoing concerns about short-term rental vouchers and a lack of a floor on minimum income required to ensure an applicant can pay for life necessities, original legislation presented on source of income discrimination was narrowly tailored to ensuring all legal sources of income were considered by rental owners when reviewing an applicant’s ability to pay rent.

Now, after subsequent stakeholder meetings, Councilmember Lisa Herbold has expanded the legislation to outright regulation of the tenant screening process. The new draft – which accommodates zero RHAWA concerns, but addresses many raised by tenant and low-income advocates - has moved the source of income legislation to a point of confusion.

The legislation now seeks to address “first in time” – the concept of first come, first serve when screening applicants, as well as situations where a screening reveals insufficient or concerning information on the applicant.

Practically speaking, “first in time” was considered best practice for an owner to exercise when determining how to run their tenant screening practice, and is not a new concept to the industry. The first applicant or group of applicants to complete the required rental application(s) and pay the screening fee(s) are first in line to be screened and qualified for the rental unit.

The newly amended legislation, however, overly complicates an owners’ ability to make tenant screening decisions without fear of liability or reprisal by an applicant. Concerns within the draft legislation are numerous, many details of which are unknown to an owner during the screening process, such as:

***A requirement to tell applicants of the time available for them to apply, and where they would fall in line with other applicants.

***A requirement that an owner disclose what additional criteria an applicant may have to satisfy if unknown scenarios were to arise in the screening process.

***A requirement which would allow applications sent by mail to be placed in the order of screening from the date which it was stamped as mailed by the post office – without consideration that another applicant may have applied in-person that same date and already have been approved and signed an agreement prior to receiving any applications in the mail.

Additional requirements for situations involving adverse action where an applicant needs to provide additional information to an owner, or an owner would approve an applicant pending the receipt of additional securities, force owners to give the applicant at least seven days to satisfy either of those issues. That’s seven days of uncollected rent and lost opportunities to rent to another tenant who is qualified and prepared to sign a lease.

A mandate for owners to allow the applicant seven additional days to comply with providing additional information or securities also appears likely to incentivize owners to simply deny an applicant without opportunity for additional consideration under adverse action – a detriment to the very individuals the legislation is intended to assist in finding housing.

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July 2016 08:13

City of Seattle Roundtable: Tools to Preserve Affordable Private Market Housing

31. May 2016 13:57 by Admin

The City of Seattle is convening a roundtable discussion of multifamily rental property owners to provide advice and feedback on several proposed and existing tools to preserve affordable private market housing. RHA has partnered with the Seattle Office of Housing to engage property owners in this conversation on a toolkit of strategies to preserve existing affordable housing as part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).

HALA, convened by Mayor Murray, is a multi-pronged approach to increase the affordability and availability of housing in Seattle. Part of the HALA road map charges the City with developing a program to preserve existing housing in the private market that is affordable to low-income people. The City Council has also prioritized preservation by creating a new loan program as part of the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy on the August 2 ballot that can help property owners make critical repairs and keep rents affordable. 

Topics to be covered at the roundtable include:

  • New Ideas – Share your ideas to preserve existing affordable housing.
  • Rental Affordability and Rehabilitation Program - Low cost financing to assist with property rehabilitation in exchange for affordable rents.
  • Preservation Tax Exemption - Tax exemption in exchange for reserving 25% of building as affordable to low-income renters.
  • Sale of Property – City financed purchase of privately owned building.
  • Notice of Sale - Required property owner notification to city 60 days before listing, if any unit in the building has a rent affordable to tenants earning 80% of Area Median Income or below (currently required).

Be part of the conversation.

Monday, June 13
4:00 to 6:00 PM
Seattle City Hall, Bertha Knight Landes Room
600 Fourth Avenue

Refreshments will be served.

Please register at: http://bit.ly/PrezTools

Inquiries may be sent to the Seattle Office of Housing at 206.684.0721 or housing@seattle.gov.

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May 2016 13:57

Legislative Update - Cutoff now past

1. March 2016 10:06 by Admin
We now sit with only 10 days left in Washington’s 2016 Legislative Session. With the fiscal committee cutoff Monday, February 29 and the opposite house of origin cutoff on Friday March 4, there is a critically short amount of time for policy bills to finish their journey to become law this year. While proponents of legislation still being considered are working feverishly to pass their bills, most of the attention in Olympia is now focused on the Supplemental Budget. This year the House introduced their version of the budget first. The House Supplemental Budget increases the 2015-17 general fund spending by $478.4 million. Major items include $99.0 million for recruiting and retaining teachers, a tax increase of $123.8 million and an appropriation of nearly half a billion dollars from the Budget Stabilization Account (also known as the rainy day fund) for the homeless and to help fight forest fires.
 
Senate Republicans claim that the House budget relies heavily on hypothetical tax increases, which House Democrats refuse to vote on. The Senate, led by Republicans, also opposes withdrawing such a large amount from the “rainy day fund” and favor waiting for next year’s budget debate to address the teacher shortage rather than pursuing a short-term solution during this supplemental budget year. The Senate’s Supplemental Budget would increase general fund spending for 2015-17 by $33.6 million. Priorities include new classroom funding, mental-health and replenishing the Model Toxics Control Act account, and $6.6 million for charter schools out of the Washington Opportunity Pathways Account.
 
In Transportation, reducing the I-405 congestion is a major priority for both the House and Senate budgets. Both bills fund an expansion of the auxiliary land from SR-520 to NE 70th Street and a northbound I-405 hard running shoulder from SR 527 to I-5. These projects were also in Governor Inslee’s recommendations to the legislature.
 
Last Thursday, a possible alternative to Carbon Washington’s Initiative 732 was sent out to legislators. The alternative carbon tax proposal, commonly known as “732 B”, differs from the original I-732 in several key ways:
• A lower carbon tax, starting at $8 in 2017 and gradually going up to $35 by 2035.
• Contains a phase in for natural gas, allowing for an untaxed transition period.
• Does not apply to coal-fired power that is being phased out of use.
• Assumes that unspecified power is natural gas, therefore, exempting it for the same transition period.
• Offers “Alternative Compliance Agreements” for energy intensive trade exposed businesses.
 
After the dissemination of the 732B draft, the Department of Ecology announced a redacting of its Clean Air Rule, an agency email stated: “Some of the updates and refinements now being considered for the draft rule are significant enough that we have withdrawn the proposed rule. This is an opportunity for us to continue working with stakeholders and will allow more time to integrate suggestions before holding public hearings.” The rule resulted from a directive from Governor Inslee. In Housing, the preservation tax exemption bill, 2SSB 6239, has been amended by House Democrats to only include property tax exemptions for nonprofits if they agree to make their units affordable. The bill initially offered property tax exemptions to all owners if they agreed to make 25% of their units for fifteen years. Seattle politicians are working with House Democrats to, hopefully bring the bill back to its original, agreed upon design. As a controversial bill, with potential fiscal impacts to local governments, the legislation will stay alive until the last day of session.
 
In other legislative news, The Voting Rights Act was amended and may finally be viable for passage by the Senate after stalling for the past two years. The final passage of Senate Bill 6195, which was the first bill signed by the Governor this session on Monday, officially kicks the can down the road for complying with the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on school funding. Last Thursday, a huge rally on charter school funding took place at the capitol in response to the House’s refusal to vote on Senator Steve Litzow’s, R-Mercer Island, bill to fund charters out of the Opportunity Pathways Account. Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos’, D-Seattle, has HB 1541, addressing the opportunity gap between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds is making its way through the Senate.

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March 2016 10:06