It’s time to re-frame the value of housing | Housing Hub

Justine Gonzalez-Berg
Posted 6/1/22

This is a terrifying time for tenants and a lucrative time for landlords, a harsh contrast that begs us to reflect on how we value housing. 

When my friend and her husband were told to leave …

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It’s time to re-frame the value of housing | Housing Hub

Posted

This is a terrifying time for tenants and a lucrative time for landlords, a harsh contrast that begs us to reflect on how we value housing. 

When my friend and her husband were told to leave their rental in January so that the home could be sold, they wondered if they’d be able to stay here. 

When they found a new rental the relief was so great that they felt the need to immediately sign a lease, even though their monthly rent increased by $800. Now, this young couple who work full time to serve the community are squarely in the 49 percent of east Jefferson County renters whose housing is unaffordable for their incomes. With each rent payment, their dream of homeownership feels further away. 

On top of their monthly housing costs almost doubling, the moving process cost over $5,200, including the first and security deposit, cleaning costs for the prior rental, renting a moving vehicle, and renting an interim storage unit. For reference, if I faced that kind of unexpected cost, it would nearly clean out my savings account. My friend said it was the most she had ever spent to move, and for a much shorter distance. 

Asking tenants to leave their home should not be taken lightly. Last year our state Legislature recognized this, and updated some key laws about how much notice a landlord is required to give a tenant, depending on why they are asking the tenant to leave. 

Now, for almost all month-to-month and fixed-lease rentals, a landlord needs to have a legitimate business reason for making a tenant leave or not renewing a rental agreement. With a legitimate reason, there are varying amounts of notice the landlord must provide, and notice must be written on paper. 

If the landlord intends to sell the rental, they must give a tenant 90 days notice. If the landlord plans to demolish or renovate the rental, they must give 120 days notice. If the landlord plans to move or needs the home for a family member, they must give 90 days notice. For a complete list of reasons why a landlord may end a tenancy and the amount of notice required, visit washingtonlawhelp.org or housingsolutionsnetwork.org/stay-housed. 

I recently heard an interview on KUOW with two housing advocates that moved me deeply. 

One said, and I’m paraphrasing, “We must prioritize a tenant’s right to shelter and safety over a landlord’s interest in making a greater profit.” 

The other essentially said, “We cannot continue to leave the basic necessity of housing up to market forces; we can see that the mechanism of supply and demand is not adequately meeting this essential human need.”

These sentiments are part of a broader call to “decommodify housing,” which asks society to treat housing like a human right rather than an investment. 

Currently, homeownership is thought of as a key route to building generational wealth — part of the “investment” narrative. However, being trapped in an unaffordable rent cycle keeps many other people in generational poverty. 

What could it look like to radically shift our social definition of the value and purpose of a home? 

Citation: US Census Bureau (2022). DP04 Selected Housing Characteristics, American Community Survey five-year estimates. Retrieved from data.census.gov, March 2022.

Justine Gonzalez-Berg is the director of Housing Solutions Network and a volunteer board member of Olympic Housing Trust. 

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  • dberrian

    Yes, let's decommodify housing! As change happens at the scale of relationship, where, when and how do have the conversations to change the narrative and who is responsible for holding these conversations?

    Thursday, June 2 Report this