The Mayor and Seattle City Council recently announced the initial appointees selected to serve on the new Seattle Renters’ Commission. Created by Ordinance 125280 in March 2017, the 15-member commission will advise the City on priorities, policies, and strategies related to all issues concerning renters across the City of Seattle. It will also monitor and provide feedback on the enforcement and effectiveness of legislation related to renters and renter protections. All the appointments are subject to City Council confirmation.
Jessie Jacobs is a white, queer, genderqueer technology professional and community organizer originally hailing from the Midwest. Prior to setting down roots in Seattle in 2014, they lived in New Orleans and Atlanta for several years. As a longtime anti-racist community organizer, Jessie has participated in and led many organizing efforts regarding healthcare, education, immigrants’ rights, homelessness, and fair housing. For the past three years, they have been working with Seattle’s May 1st Action Coalition, which organizes Seattle’s annual May 1st March for Workers’ and Immigrants’ rights. As a long-time renter, Jessie is keenly interested in working with their fellow commissioners to preserve fair and affordable housing for all Seattleites, as well as working to reverse the long history of gentrification and displacement that has plagued Seattle for many years. They currently reside in the Alki neighborhood in West Seattle with their partner, three cats, and a baby due in November 2017.
What inspired you to serve on the Seattle Renters’ Commission?
Prior to moving to Seattle in 2014, I lived many places, including New Orleans and Atlanta. I have been a renter for nearly twenty years and during that time I have faced housing discrimination for being queer, as well as having to deal with substandard housing issues while juggling full-time work and full-time school. I have witnessed the housing discrimination that my friends of color have had to endure, as well as the struggle that my mother and Muslim stepfather faced when looking for housing after 9/11. I have watched as friends and family were unable to find accessible housing that would accommodate their physical needs. I have seen my friends who head single-income or single-parent households make incredible compromises that mean less time with their children in order to be able to afford rent and/or childcare. These are just a few of the experiences that inspired me to serve on the Seattle Renters’ Commission (SRC).
Another inspiration for serving on the SRC is the rapid rate at which the Seattle market, in particular, is changing. Many of the issues that affect renters in Seattle exist in other cities, such as sub-par housing conditions (and absent landlords), lack of transportation options for low- to middle-income renters, lack of affordable housing, and housing discrimination (based on race, religion, ethnicity, LGBTQ status, etc.). However, Seattle’s economic boom exacerbates these issues and continues to drive gentrification and displacement at a breakneck pace. The SRC has the opportunity to play a critical role in preserving our neighborhoods and making Seattle a better place for all renters.
How has your experience as a renter shaped your perspective of Seattle?
During my time as a renter, I spent years working at least one job to pay for living expenses while attending school. This meant years of worrying about housing: whether the application will go through, whether I have enough documentation, whether the background check will clear, whether the building will get sold, whether they will terminate my lease, etc.
When I moved to Seattle, I hadn’t started my new job yet and I was nervous that it would be hard to rent an apartment. To my astonishment, every one of the new, large developer-built apartment complexes offered to waive most of the deposits and background checks. The only proof of income was an offer letter from my employer. While I have experienced rental discrimination based on being LGBTQ, my whiteness and economic privilege has never been as evident as it is while looking for housing in Seattle.
What do you hope the Seattle Renters’ Commission will bring to the City?
I’m excited to work with such talented and dedicated commissioners. I have two hopes for the SRC. First, I’m hoping we can build partnerships between Seattle City government groups and the many wonderful neighborhood and community organizations across the city focused on issues that renters face every day. Second, I hope we can successfully address the causes of foundational renter issues (affordability, quality, and availability), and move towards addressing issues such as transportation to low-income neighborhoods and access to neighborhood resources (supermarkets, banks, childcare/preschool, healthcare, etc.). I believe that diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, ability, religion, economic class, sexual orientation, and gender (to name a few) are the foundation for a truly thriving city and by working together we can make it easier for everyone to live here.
What neighborhood do you live in and what do you love most about it?
I live in the Alki neighborhood in West Seattle. I love the vibrancy and activity during the summertime – the beach brings so many people together from so many different Seattle neighborhoods (and surrounding communities). Alki Beach Park is one of those great public resources that adds to the quality of life for the whole city. During the wintertime, when the beach is quiet, I enjoy connecting with my neighbors in our wonderful local spots, as well as wandering the beach and watching sea critters with my partner.