Apartments in Walla Walla

Apartments in Walla Walla on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. 

At the outset of the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seemed to be in hearty agreement on at least one priority: providing affordable housing.

No doubt that kind of talk resonated here in Yakima County, where 40% of renters are paying out at least a third of their income for housing.

But as the session has proceeded in Olympia, that priority somehow seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Despite insisting to the YH-R’s Editorial Board just two months ago that housing affordability was near the top of their to-do list, Republicans sided with landlords and effectively shut down two rent-relief bills last week.

The bills — HB 1389 and HB 1124 — would have capped some rents and required six months’ notice of certain rent increases. Yet when the measures came up for consideration in the House of Representatives, Republicans threatened to add dozens of amendments that would’ve delayed the bills from reaching a vote in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

Whatever their reasoning for strangling the legislation, it’s hard to square that with Republicans’ claims about working hard for the working-class people they profess to represent. In this case, at least, they stood with landlords — including the increasing number of them who are entrusting their properties to real estate management companies that have little empathy for struggling tenants.

Not that Democrats were particularly noble on this matter, either.

Members of the majority party say they gave up bringing either of the bills to a final vote because of the Republicans’ threat to delay votes with long floor debates on all those amendments they had at the ready.

That’s disappointing, too. If housing affordability is such a priority, why haven’t Democrats worked harder to push them through? And surely they anticipated some opposition — maybe they could’ve hurried them along a little faster.

In this case, though, it’s vastly more disappointing that Republicans are showing so little compassion.

Seemingly without hesitation, they joined the chorus of landlords who warned that the bills would chase them out of the state and lead to the kinds of rent controls that have taken hold in cities like New York and San Francisco.

That’s a reach.

We suspect most landlords would jump at the chance to own prime rental properties in high-priced places like New York or San Francisco — no matter what the rules are there. And whatever controls or market limits New York and California have put on their respective rental markets, good luck getting a place in either city for a price that the average middle-class tenant can afford.

No, not all landlords are parasites preying on the poor. And yes, they face serious financial liabilities that probably don’t even occur to many of their tenants. And like most of the rest of us, they’ve absolutely endured some serious economic pain since the pandemic began three years ago.

But the mere fact that they have the capital to buy and manage rental properties suggests that most of them aren’t exactly scraping by.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for many of their tenants, who after moving into another home or even another community eventually may be forced to sleep in their cars.

So the next time Republicans start telling you how much their party relates to everyday voters, ask them this: Why have they opposed measures like these rent-relief bills that might spare some of those everyday people from moving into their cars?

And if the plans they opposed this session were so onerous, when might we see their alternative proposals?