It’s great to see a mayoral race dominated by discussions of affordable housing. It seems like a lot of people are really concerned about making this city an easier place to live. Right now it’s not an easy place to live, and this discussion — and swift, concrete action — are needed.
There is one critical thing that no one seems to be talking about much: renting an apartment. I would like to ask each candidate about their experience with renting an apartment (to live in, not rent out), in the last two years.
You can’t credibly talk about affordable housing leaving out tenants’ rights.
It is hell on wheels to try and rent a place in Salt Lake City. I am not speaking theoretically here. I am in the process of renting an apartment for myself on the income provided by 43-plus hours a week at two part-time jobs paying below $15 an hour. I’m taking about a third of my monthly income as rule-of-thumb affordability. You do the math and check the listings. I am the economy, stupid.
There are concrete things that need to be implemented to build a fair housing economy in Salt Lake City. Of the many that need addressing, four stand out the most to me:
1. Require the free-market measure that security deposits be refunded in full within 14 days of final communication, if the prospective tenant chooses another dwelling or decides to keep looking. Would you accept anything less when buying anything else? There are no “damages” that the landlord suffers as a result, especially in this desperate rental market. No one should suffer extortion to accept abusive lease terms or a dirty or unsafe apartment.
2. Require that the headlined rental rate, security deposit equal to a month’s rent, and a modest monthly late fee be the sum and total of expenses associated with renting a unit. There should be no extra fees beyond these. The rent is by itself mitigation of the owner’s expenses, which are not the tenant’s problem.
3. A two-year freeze on all rental rates, (with some units required to revert to 2015 rates, and tax breaks for doing so voluntarily) followed by a permanent yearly 4.5% maximum increase.
4. Vest the Salt Lake City Housing Authority with real, enforceable regulatory power, and as sole provider of the only legal lease form. It should serve primarily as an office for tenants’ rights funded by property taxes in the highest valuation brackets, providing reliable legal advice and court representation on everything to do with being a tenant, for free or a small fee for modest means clients.
We need to abandon the idea that the “American Dream” means owning a house, and stop treating people who rent their homes as second-class citizens. Renting is normal, and it must be well regulated if we want to pretend to any level of social justice in our community. These needs are active parts of the systemic marginalization of single women, Americans of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ, since these communities continue to suffer most directly from wage and income disparity.
The American Dream is the one articulated by Martin Luther King: people can be who they want to be and do what they want to do, free from exploitation and exclusion by landowners.
We could talk at length about the “content of character” of people who pay their posh mortgages running property management firms at the expense of people who just want a decent and reliable roof over their heads.
Owning property is a debatable privilege. Clean, safe, reliably affordable shelter is an inalienable human right.
Loren Carle is an assistant at the Marmalade Library, an active performing musician and a recent transplant from Montréal.