SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane City Council chamber was packed with tenants and landlords discussing ideas for how to deal with the area's housing problems Wednesday night.
The meeting consisted of deliberation of a number of potential policy proposals, none of which are expected to be implemented anytime soon. But the participants, from groups who have long been at odds, were able to find some common ground.
"Perspectives. It's all about perspectives," said Councilwoman Kate Burke.
Wednesday was the last day in a series of four similar forums tackling housing policy.
"We're becoming a really large city, and so we need to make sure that we have protections around people who are moving here and renting," Burke said.
"People had come to us, both landlords and tenants, recognizing that we're in a super tight rental market, less than one percent vacancy," said Councilman Breann Beggs. "How can we improve that situation?"
The meeting broke off into three groups.
The primary issue: No-cause evictions. Right now, tenants on month-to-month agreements can be evicted without cause with just 20 days notice.
If tenants feel they've been evicted as some sort of retaliation, they can challenge those evictions but the burden of proof lies with them.
The first group discussed switching to just-cause eviction, which puts the burden of proof on landlords to show their tenants are causing problems.
A second group discussed simply increasing the notice time to allow tenants to find new housing.
A third group discussed various types of advanced notice requirements for rent hikes.
There were disagreements between many of the landlords and tenants, but participants also found areas of agreement.
"There's obviously always clashes but I would say overall people have been really respectful," Burke said. "And I've actually seen a lot of interest in both landlords and tenants that actually want to come together and find that common ground."
"I think they came in at the very first part of the four meetings, and it was very much us and them, completely. And it was black and white; there's a right way and a wrong way. But a different right and wrong way in each group," Beggs said. "And I really saw tonight... that people were recognizing the truth of the other side and seeing some common ground."
Some of the areas of agreement: Landlords acknowledging tenants may need more than 20 days to find new housing in the current market and both groups calling for the city to enforce existing regulations against bad landlords.
For the time being, the progress is only in discussion rather than tangible policy.
"This is the end of the beginning," Beggs said. "It really set the foundation and brought all the data and information forward that people on both sides wanted us as a city council to know."
"I don't see anything coming in the next few months, but this conversation will continue to go," Burke added.
The next step: Council members will take what they've learned to the rest of the council. They will then aim to figure out which issues are priorities and what areas have the most potential for real consensus building.