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Renters' Commission in Seattle, Washington



Neighborhood councils are typically run by long-time homeowners. Seattle flipped the script by establishing a Renters’ Commission.


Most American cities have some level of neighborhood councils that advise city councilors on various issues. These neighborhood councils are intended to be a clear voice that represents their community interests. Unfortunately, the makeup of these groups tends to lean in favor of those who have the time and money to get involved—long-time homeowners.


If you do not have low-income individuals represented, then you don’t represent those who are most vulnerable to economic shifts. Naturally, homeowners carry very different interests when it comes to new development. In the most expensive American cities, these neighborhood councils have often blocked creation of new housing due to reasons ranging from view obstruction to neighborhood character.


Frustrated by the imbalance in neighborhood councils, the City of Seattle decided to overhaul their system by cutting ties for 13 Neighborhood District Councils in 2016 while creating the Seattle Renters’ Commission in March of 2017—the first of its kind in a U.S. city.


According to Curbed Seattle, “about half of Seattle’s households rent, and the group of renters differs demographically from homeowners, who are more likely to be older, white, wealthier, and less reliant on public transit.”


The mandate of the Renters’ Commission is simple yet so relevant for today’s cities: to represent diverse renter voices across the city. The Commission consists of 15 members appointed to advise the Mayor and City Council.


Appointments are made to ensure diverse voices are represented such as low-income renters, LGBTQ population, immigrants, those with felony records, and those who have experienced homelessness.


In the Commission’s 2019 work plans, priority issues were identified including: rent stabilization and/or rent control; housing supply; renter protection laws; and outreach strategies for engaging renters.


The Renters’ Commission is an exciting shift for Seattle as it endeavors to create a more inclusive urban planning and development process.


Highlights from Seattle Renters' Commission


  • Seattle decided to overhaul their system by cutting ties for 13 Neighborhood District Councils in 2016 and by creating the Seattle Renters’ Commission in March of 2017—the first of its kind in a U.S. city.

  • Appointments are made to ensure diverse voices are represented.



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