BIPOC groups send scathing letter to lawmaker who voted against rent stabilization

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Multiple groups representing Black, indigenous and people of color in Washington delivered a scathing letter to state Sen. Annette Cleveland last week after the Vancouver Democrat voted down a proposal for statewide rent stabilization in an executive session on Jan. 26.

“For centuries in this country, communities of color and culture have been told that we do not know what is best for us, that we don’t understand how to make necessary decisions, or that we do not deserve a place at the table,” the letter read.

“We are tired of hearing that our voices do not matter, or that we do not hold the solutions to our problems.”

The letter was signed by organizations including the Southwest Washington Equity Coalition, the NAACP of Vancouver, Latino Leadership Northwest, and Odyssey World International Education Services, along with six other advocacy groups.

In January, members of the Vancouver community shared stories with Cleveland of challenges faced by people of color, the author of the letter noted.

“Instead of listening to our stories and the data we have shared with you, you shared alternative information and data in a manner that demonstrates you believe the knowledge you have entitles you to make decisions that are completely inconsistent with our own experts,” the letter says.

Both versions of the rent stabilization bill were written and introduced by women of color, they noted. House Bill 2114 was crafted by Rep. Emily Alvarado, D-Seattle, while Senate Bill 5961 is sponsored by Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma.

In a news release from Cleveland Jan. 31, the lawmaker referenced studies such as a 2019 research paper on the effects of rent control from the American Economic Association and the Urban Institute as a reasoning behind voting no on the Senate measure.

Advocacy groups noted in their letter that “people of color and culture are more likely to rent, are more likely to experience homelessness, are more likely to experience excessive rent increases, and are more likely to remain unhoused once we become unhoused.”

“We do not believe it is unreasonable to expect that you, as our elected representative in the State Senate, would be able to hold two challenging and competing beliefs at the same time,” the letter continued.

“While it is true that there are not enough homes currently available, and the government will need to support the expedited building of affordable housing units, there must also be an immediate lever placed on the housing market to ease pressures for our communities.”

The advocacy groups urged Cleveland to show with her actions that she is “sincerely invested in seeing our communities of color and culture.”

“Your actions this week have reminded us that if we are not at the table, we are on the menu,” the letter concluded. “Show our communities of color and culture that you are invested in our collective well-being and make rent stabilization a reality this session.”

Cleveland did not respond to a request for comment from McClatchy.

Bill sponsors are still advocating for rent stabilization, despite the Senate bill stalling in committee. The House version of the legislation still has a chance of being pulled to the House debate floor before the cutoff date Tuesday to pass bills from their chamber of origin.

On Friday, Sen. Trudeau and Rep. Alvarado as well as Sen. T’wina Nobles, D-Fircrest; Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent; Rep. Chipalo Street, D-Seattle; Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma; and Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, held a news conference on rent stabilization legislation.

The lawmakers did not offer specifics on what was happening behind the scenes with the House bill, nor were they able to provide any insight into whether the bill would be called to the floor before Tuesday’s cutoff. Instead, they reiterated the importance of the legislation for renters, noting that the policy would help with predictability and stability for those closed out of homeownership.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, sits on the House Housing Committee and spoke with reporters after the news conference. Barkis owns Hometown Property management, a local residential property management firm in Olympia.

Barkis said he is against rent control because it has had “negative impacts in the marketplace when it comes to the supply-side issue.” Barkis also said Democrats have not collaborated with Republicans on the bill.

Instead, he thinks that prioritizing funding for housing vouchers would help ease the burden for those struggling to pay rent.

When asked what he would tell communities of color who are urging action on rent stabilization policy, Barkis said that he tries to look at the issue statewide instead of through a “particular” lens.

“I think if BIPOC communities or Latino communities, or whatever communities — if they’re struggling, we should find ways to help them,” Barkis said. “But when we put a broad stroke policy across the state of Washington, it’s going to affect all communities, all tenants, all landlords.”