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Washington rent stabilization bill hits dead end in Senate — again

caption: The Senate Ways and Means Committee, shown here Feb. 26, 2024, did not vote on a rent stabilization bill before a key cutoff deadline, dooming the measure's chances this Legislative session.
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The Senate Ways and Means Committee, shown here Feb. 26, 2024, did not vote on a rent stabilization bill before a key cutoff deadline, dooming the measure's chances this Legislative session.
Jeanie Lindsay / Northwest News Network

One of the most high profile bills in Olympia has apparently stalled for the final time in the Legislature this year.

The measure, which aimed to slow rising rents in Washington, would have capped the amount most landlords could raise current tenants' rent each year. But the Senate Ways and Means Committee did not vote on the legislation before a cutoff deadline Monday.

RELATED: Can rent stabilization help Washington residents?

House Bill 2114 included a 7% cap on the amount most landlords could raise rent for existing tenants each year. It also capped fees and late fee charges for tenants, but the policy would not have applied to new buildings.

The policy has sparked fierce debate all session long – supporters say the policy is a crucial tool to help keep people in their homes, while opponents worry the legislation won't fix the problem of rising rental costs and could make the housing market even more challenging.

Lawmakers on the Senate Ways and Means Committee went to a closed-door meeting to discuss the legislation Monday morning, and once they returned, Chair June Robinson (D-Everett) said the bill would not be brought up for a vote. While there are legislative maneuvers that could possibly keep the bill in the mix, the committee's nonvote most likely means the policy will no longer be considered this session.

In a brief interview, Robinson said not enough Democrats and no Republicans on the committee would support the bill. She did not explain which aspects of the bill kept it from being voted on.

"I don't feel like I can comment on that," Robinson said.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Emily Alvarado (D-Seattle) told reporters Monday afternoon it was unclear what, if any, changes might convince more senators to support the proposal.

"We did not hear specific feedback from senators about what it would have taken to get them to support this bill," Alvarado said.

Two Democrats on the committee, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Lake Sutherland) and Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) were among those opposed to the legislation. A spokesperson for Van De Wege said he "isn't interested in commenting."

Meanwhile, Mullet did not pinpoint any one aspect of the policy as problematic, but worries that the bill could stifle efforts to build more housing by driving away home builders.

"If this bill were to pass, I think in three or four years we'd have substantially more people in a difficult spot," Mullet said, adding that the state should instead focus on ways to build housing more quickly.

But backers of the legislation say renters struggling with rising rent costs can't wait for the housing market to catch up with demand.

Chair of the Housing Committee in the House, Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), criticized senators for not working more proactively on the legislation. The proposal was a top priority for House Democrats this session.

"There was one single amendment drafted to the bill," Peterson said. "They did not do the work and that is deeply upsetting."

The House bill's demise comes after it passed the House mostly along party lines, and weeks after a similar version stalled in a different Senate committee. Alvarado says she plans to bring the bill back again during the 2025 legislative session, and in an emailed statement, Robinson also promised to work on the issue of housing affordability more next year.

This post has been updated with new information throughout.

[Copyright 2024 Northwest News Network]

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