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Seattle Moves One Step Closer To Creating Renters' Commission

Seattle could soon become the first city in the country to create a renters' commission.

The commission would comprise 15 members who could comment on city policy. The city has several boards and commissions, including groups for women, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community.

The city's Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee approved the proposal Wednesday. The full City Council is expected to vote Monday.

The purpose of the commission is twofold. First, the city has noticed that even though more than half of Seattleites are renters, many of the people who participate in local politics -- such as the recent public hearings around upzoning proposals -- tend to be homeowners.

The commission would be one way to ensure the city is hearing from renters on a variety of issues, from land use to transportation, parks, public health and public safety.

Second, there's also been a lot of talk in Seattle about tenants' rights. Some of that talk has led to new legislation, like the law that requires landlords to rent to their first qualified applicants.

"So much of our laws that protect tenants are really self-enforce," City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said at Wednesday's committee meeting. "Having a group of renters that are focused on those issues I think will help the city do a better job."

But some landlords are bristling at an all-renters' commission, worried that their voices might get lost and that the city is becoming more unfriendly to them. One group is challenging the new first-come, first-served law in court.

Councilmember Tim Burgess says the point is not to divide renters and landlords.

"The commission will be successful as it reaches out and engages in dialogue and ongoing conversation with landlords," Burgess said. "We hope to see that kind of an interactive exchange and relationship."

The mayor and the City Council would appoint most of the members of the renters' commission.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.