I had the privilege of attending the mentor-mentee reception at U.W. Law School again. It was great to meet so many new law students. I always feel like the caliber of law students continues to increase, which makes me hopeful for the future of the legal profession and of the world.
Councilmembers Rob Johnson, Lisa Herbold, Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant unveiled legislation today that would revamp the City’s current practice of encampment sweeps, allowing for clear outs after the City fulfils certain conditions. The legislation was developed with the goal of protecting public safety and connecting the unhoused with permanent housing options. Councilmembers intend for this legislation to go through the legislative process in parallel to, and informed by, the work of the Mayor’s Unsanctioned Encampments Cleanup Protocols Task Force to ensure implementation before the winter months.
The legislation unveiled today has been amended to address concerns that have been aired in recent days, clarifying the City’s role in managing and clearing encampments. The new legislation would allow for encampment clear outs, with the following conditions:
• Outdoor living spaces in locations deemed unsuitable or unsafe are to be cleared with 48 hours notice, and the City must offer an alternative location for people to relocate;
• Camping on sidewalks, rights of way, school grounds, private property, highway overpasses, among other unsuitable locations, would not be allowed;
• For outdoor living areas that are not deemed unsafe, unsuitable, or hazardous, residents will be cleared out only after being offered an adequate and accessible housing option with at least 30 days advance written notice;
• Outdoor living spaces that have garbage accumulation and/or presence of unsanitary elements would be qualified as hazardous. Before clearing out the space, the City must first attempt to remedy the hazardous situation (for example, garbage containers, sharps containers, portable restrooms);
• Removed personal property must be catalogued and kept for a minimum of 90 days at storage locations accessible by public transit which operate beyond normal business hours;
• A 10 member advisory committee be created to provide recommendations on the City’s ongoing removal and impoundment actions;
• Further amendments will be considered through the Council’s legislative process.
Current City protocol provides homeless residents 72 hours notice before each sweep occurs and access to outreach workers to connect to shelter and services. In practice, the notice has sometimes been as little as 24 hours, and an outreach worker often does not have available shelters or services to offer to individuals that meet their needs. Personal belongings are either disposed of or sent to a facility in an industrial area for pickup.
A Seattle Times story recently illustrated problems with the City’s current outdoor living space cleanup protocol, including improperly destroyed personal belongings, inconsistency in cleanup notice and scheduling, unsuitable access to confiscated belongings, and exacerbating trauma onto marginalized populations.
According to the Human Services Department, the City has conducted 441 cleanups, or “sweeps” of outdoor living spaces since the declaration of the State of Emergency on Homelessness last November. During those cleanups only 126 people were connected with shelter or housing while outreach workers actually engaged 1,852 individuals. The ineffectiveness of the current protocols is also depicted in the fact that many outdoor living space cleanups are done multiple times Because of repeat processes, the City constrains its resources and the proposed legislation will help stabilize those situations to ensure neighborhood safety and health.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle & South Park) said, “People are sleeping outside because they have no place to go, and that’s the reality. This legislation is meant to set the parameters for what is safe and what isn’t, and it’s largely intended to inspire the City to get serious about providing stable housing opportunities for people living on the streets.”
Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle) said, “Reforms to the current approach are necessary to ensure we are treating our unsheltered neighbors with decency and respect. While recent steps have been made toward increasing the affordable housing stock in Seattle (such as passing the Mandatory Housing Affordability Residential framework last month), we must work in the meantime to enact better, more compassionate short term solutions. I look forward to working collaboratively with the Mayor’s taskforce, advocates, and members from the business community to make sure that we come up with an effective plan to this complex issue. ”
“If our larger goal is to transition unsheltered people and families into permanent housing, then continually displacing them, destabilizing their lives, and compromising relationships and connections to services is not producing the results we need,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle). “Many community members have approached me with concerns about increased garbage, human waste, and needles in their neighborhoods, which is why this legislation will require that the City provide sharps containers, public restrooms, and garbage pickup for those sites where we find unsanitary conditions. We all deserve clean and safe neighborhoods.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) said, “Spending millions of dollars moving homeless people from one street corner to another is inhumane and ineffective. Instead, this money should be directed towards basic services and shelter. Also, the $160 million slated for a new North Police Precinct should be used to build a 1,000 units of city-owned affordable rental housing. The Council needs to address the root causes of the homelessness crisis and the lack of affordable housing.”
The legislation was developed in collaboration with advocacy organizations and homeless service providers who have the on-the-ground work experience in case management for the unsheltered, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness ACLU of Washington, Columbia Legal Services, Public Defender Association, Seattle Community Law Association, Real Change, and people experiencing homelessness.
Councilmembers are requesting that the legislation be initially considered in the Council’s Human Services & Public Health Committee on September 14 at 2 p.m.
“Today’s vote is a significant step towards increasing fair access to rental housing,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold. According to Seattle’s Renting Crisis Report from the Washington Community Action Network, “48% of individuals who pay for rent with Social Security Disability Insurance or Social Security retirement income said that discrimination prevents them from having successful rental applications.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant said, “The movement of tenants in Seattle continues to win victories toward a full-fledged Tenants’ Bill of Rights. Thank you to Councilmember Herbold and tenant activists for this important protection against housing discrimination.”
Councilmember Mike O’Brien applauded the bill. “We are living through a housing affordability crisis. It’s essential to protect low-income renters from being displaced. Today’s legislation is directly based on what we heard from communities most impacted by discriminatory landlord practices.”
Sponsored by Councilmember Herbold, the Source of Income Discrimination legislation was unanimously voted out of the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee. Currently it is illegal to discriminate against a prospective renter whose primary source of income is a Section 8 voucher. This bill expands the legally protected classes to include alternate sources of income such as a pension, Social Security, unemployment, child support or any other governmental or non-profit subsidy.
The Committee discussed the bill on May 24 and June 14. In light of these discussions, the legislation was amended to add further protections:
- First-Come, First-Served Screening Practice
Prevents housing providers from giving applicants with alternative sources of income a lower priority. It requires landlords to review applications one at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis.
- New Eviction Protections
Ensures that tenants can fully utilize community resources to prevent eviction. Landlords will be required to accept pledges from community-based organizations to remedy nonpayment of rent if funds are received within 5 days of an eviction notice.
- Preferred Employer Programs Banned
Encourages landlords to offer non-discriminatory move-in incentives. In 2015, both media and community members reported discounts on deposits and other move-in fees for rental applicants working for preferred employers. The Seattle Office of Civil Rights recently concluded that some preferred employer programs that provide discounts or other terms and conditions in rental housing to certain groups over others may constitute discrimination under Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08).
I am very proud of having graduated from the King County Dispute Resolution Center’s Mediation Practicum, and I look forward to continuing to mediate community mediations at the Dispute Resolution Center. The Practicum has been a rigorous, but rewarding two-year experience. I also want to thank all of my instructors in the Practicum for their wisdom, kindness, and patience.
Once again I spoke to the Solo and Small Firm Practice Class at the University of Washington School of Law. The students are very inquisitive. The subjects of my speaking were broadly-career paths, business plans, and marketing. The students presented business plans at the beginning of class which were as detailed and professional as any business plans I have ever seen. I am strongly encouraged that the next generation of lawyers will be even more talented than their predecessors, and hope that they use this talent to improve the world, both inside and outside of the legal system.
Rent your place on Airbnb? The landlord wants a cut
Revenue-sharing model would allow apartment dwellers to market rooms through lodging website
Three of the nation’s largest landlords have held discussions with Airbnb Inc. about allowing apartment dwellers to market rooms through the company’s global network in exchange for a slice of the revenue.
Equity Residential, AvalonBay Communities Inc. and Camden Property Trust have had discussions with Airbnb in recent weeks about joining forces, executives at each of the companies said. They all said they are interested in pursuing a revenue-sharing model with Airbnb but would need to work out details.
The moves hold the potential to expand Airbnb’s access to rental units across the country and further formalize a business that has grown from a matchmaking service for couch-surfers into a real threat to established hotels.
Airbnb’s service has long run afoul of many apartment companies’ contracts. A truce could allow a bigger portion America’s housing stock to be used as hotel rooms, potentially adding thousands of new listings to Airbnb’s books by allowing tenants to openly use the site rather than handing over their keys on the sly.
Equity Residential is the largest publicly traded U.S. apartment operator, with about 108,000 units, according to the company, while AvalonBay is the second largest with 83,000 units and Camden owns about 59,000 units, according to the companies.
“A lot of our hosts are renters,” said Christopher Nulty, an Airbnb spokesman. “Any solution we would be able to identify would be a win-win-win for everyone involved.” Earlier this year, Airbnb tapped a former San Francisco real-estate executive for a position dedicated to forging partnerships with apartment operators.
Home dwellers who use Airbnb’s website to list rooms or entire homes for rent pay Airbnb a percentage of the nightly rate. But most apartment leases have restrictions that forbid tenants to sublet or to do so without permission. That has made many of the apartment dwellers who advertise their units on Airbnb’s website subject to possible eviction, a hurdle to Airbnb’s growth thus far.
Nevertheless, Airbnb, founded in 2008, now lists about 322,500 accommodations in the U.S., up 80% from a year earlier, according to the company. It generated $340 million of revenue in the third quarter, on bookings of $2.2 billion, according to an investor presentation earlier this year reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Airbnb’s valuation has ballooned as home dwellers and travelers have embraced the service. As of last month the San Francisco-based company was valued at $25.5 billion, almost matching Equity Residential’s $28 billion market capitalization.
“You just can’t turn your head or keep your head in the sand over what’s going on,” said David Santee, Equity Residential’s chief operating officer. A potential deal is “just a way to figure out how can everybody coexist, bring transparency and figure out a way that everybody can win.”
Kristy Simonette, chief information officer at Camden, said the company is in early talks with Airbnb about a partnership. “While it’s a little scary, we do think there’s a play there,” she said.
Tim Naughton, chief executive of AvalonBay, said in a conference call in late October that the company is deciding “whether we want to embrace it.”
Airbnb has struggled to win support from some local political officials, tenants groups and rental property owners, however. Critics warn that apartments could essentially be converted into hotel rooms, depleting the rental stock in cities with housing crunches, such as New York, San Francisco and New Orleans.
Such a deal could place Airbnb under additional scrutiny from lawmakers by seeking to legitimize the use of apartments as hotel rooms. Lawmakers in some cities are seeking to crack down on the practice, arguing that it takes units off the market for local residents and that apartment buildings don’t adhere to the same fire and safety codes as hotels.
“I’m sort of appalled that Airbnb thinks the next answer to their problem of not running a legal business is to try to convince some number of landlords … that they can get in on the deal,” said New York State Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat and vocal opponent of Airbnb.
Executives at the three apartment companies said they plan to examine local laws carefully to ensure they don’t run afoul of them. Mr. Santee, of Equity Residential, said they would only let residents rent units out on Airbnb occasionally, ensuring they don’t get converted into full-time hotel rooms.
Airbnb officials have said in the past that the vast majority of its users are renting out their apartments only occasionally on the site, helping them afford rapidly rising rents in those cities.
Some landlords are hostile to Airbnb because tenants are able to make money off their units with no direct financial benefit to the landlord. Others are concerned that having people staying in their buildings who haven’t undergone the same background checks puts existing tenants at risk of having to deal with noisy partyers or unsavory characters.
Airbnb officials said residents have an incentive to screen candidates looking to stay in their homes. The website also allows hosts to rate guests, providing a check on unruly users.
In San Francisco’s recent battle over Airbnb, the San Francisco Apartment Association, a landlord group, joined forces with tenant groups to support Proposition F, a ballot measure that limited the number of nights a year a unit could be rented out to 75.
Landlords and tenants “are normally at one another’s throats,” said Dale Carlson, co-founder of ShareBetter San Francisco, which helped lead the fight for the ballot measure. Instead, he said, the groups wrote the anti-Airbnb measure together. “The apartment association catered lunch and it wasn’t poisoned,” he said.
Major landlords, such as Related Cos., have moved to evict New York tenants who rent out their units, citing local laws that prohibit renting out a multifamily unit for less than 30 days if the resident isn’t present.
Airbnb got its start appealing to travelers seeking a less corporate, more informal local experience than traditional hotels. But as the company grows, it has been seeking ways to formalize its business, such as by offering to pay hotel taxes in some municipalities and venturing into the professional vacation rental business by developing software that would help link property managers to the site.
But landlords could stand to benefit from a hookup with Airbnb. They could impose a fee to tenants for allowing them to rent out their units, apartment executives and analysts said.
Landlords also could find it easier to pass along rent increases. If tenants can get $300 a night renting their room from time to time, it is easier for landlords to keep pushing steep rent increases, the apartment executives and analysts said.
“For those that are pushing the threshold of affordability, maybe they can do an Airbnb or two a month,” said Wes Golladay, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “Maybe it’s affordable and they can stay.”
I spoke at the University of Washington School of Law’s solo and small firm practice class recently regarding solo practice, business plans, marketing, ethics, and other topics. This engagement is always a joy in which to participate and highly rewarding for all involved.
I recently served as a judge for the University of Washington Law School’s mediation moot court competition. This competition offers a great opportunity for law students to work together on a collaborative basis during a facilitative mediation, as opposed to using the more common adversarial model for negotiations taught in law school and employed in litigation.
I attended the U.W. Law School mentorship reception last evening. I got to meet my new mentee. The speaker at this event was Judge Lori K. Smith. I have now participated in the mentorship program at the University of Washington School of Law for nine years.