Mayor Harrell’s first veto

This afternoon, Mayor Harrell delivered his first veto of a City Council bill, Council Bill 120325, which would require all Seattle landlords to provide information on their rentals to a research university on a recurring basis.

The “research university” would almost certainly be UW, which already houses the state-funded Washington Center for Real Estate Research (WCRER). Up until a few years ago, local real estate consultants Dupre + Scott was a reliable source for data on the local rental market; unfortunately they shuttered their operation when their principal retired and no other company has taken its place. Online rental-advertising companies such as publish data on local rental markets, but their numbers tend to be skewed toward the published prices for the small subset of units that are on the market at any given time and do not represent the prices of units already rented out under existing rental agreements. A scheme such as the one proposed by the Council would provide a much more accurate representation of true rental prices in Seattle.

Harrell’s letter explaining his reasons for vetoing the bill attached a letter from the WCRER head, James Young, expressing his concerns with the Council’s bill. The directors of the city’s Office of Housing, Office of Planning and Community Development, and Department of Construction and Inspections also submitted a letter with concerns. Harrell’s veto letter references their objections as well.

One of the issues hinted at, but not directly spelled out, is that because UW is a public university if it became the repository for rental data it would have no means to protect it from public document requests under the state Public Records Act — potentially exposing proprietary business information to competitors. The city ran into this same issue when looking for a research organization to confidentially analyze Uber and Lyft ride data; it ultimately contracted with Cornell University, a private organization subject to New York laws and that already had such a confidential data repository established.

Last week the Council passed the bill by a slim 5-4 majority, which suggests it will not be able to override the Mayor’s veto.

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