Seattle needs rent control, citywide and free of corporate loopholes! I’ve introduced rent control legislation, alongside 23 community and labor organizations, into City Council. Despite what corporate developers would have you believe, “trickle down economics” doesn’t work. We need a movement and bold legislation to end the housing affordability crisis in Seattle. We need to tax Amazon and big business for a massive expansion of social housing, to build tens of thousands of high quality, ecologically sustainable, permanently affordable, publicly-owned homes. We can fund homeless services and affordable housing with developer impact fees and a vacancy tax on corporate landlords. As your City Councilmember, I will continue to fight against evictions and redlining with economic evictions assistance, inclusionary zoning, and a Tenants’ Bill of Rights.
The most urgent issue facing Seattle’s working people is the affordable housing crisis. Corporate developers are raking in record profits as ordinary people are rapidly being gentrified out. Seattle’s District 3 is the epicenter of displacement, including the historically people-of-color Central District and the historically LGBTQ Capitol Hill. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Central District was over 70% black and now it’s less than 20%.
Working alongside housing justice activists, Kshama Sawant’s office has helped to win historic victories. Our movements have won tens of millions for publicly-owned affordable housing; passed landmark renters’ rights victories like the Move-In-Fee cap and payment plan; implemented the “Carl Haglund” law barring rent increases at substandard rental homes; and won a law requiring landlords to provide voter registration information to new tenants. While we have won some key battles, we will need to build a powerful movement for bold policies like rent control and social housing in order to address the deep affordable housing crisis in our city.
Seattle Needs Rent Control!
Seattle urgently needs rent control to stop Seattle’s out-of-control rent hikes. Rents have soared 69% between 2010 and 2018 to an average of $2,136 per month — the highest of any city in the country outside of California! Studies show that when the average rent in a metropolitan area increases by $100, homelessness increases by approximately 15%. Seattle’s sky-high rents have pushed thousands of working families out of their homes or out of the city altogether.
Under pressure from our renters’ rights movement and our socialist city council office, the 2015 Seattle City Council unanimously passed Resolution 31620 demanding that the state legislature lift the undemocratic ban on rent control. Yet since that time the political establishments in both Olympia and Seattle have failed to act.
Meanwhile the movement for rent control is taking off across the country, from victories this year statewide in Oregon and California to key protections in New York City to strengthen and extend rent control. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced “Homes for All” legislation into Congress that is similar to the rent control legislation Kshama put forward in City Hall, and Bernie Sanders’ calls for national rent control in his affordable housing platform. Now, Washington is the only state on the West Coast without any form of rent control!
That’s why Councilmember Sawant's office, alongside Be:Seattle, the Tenants Union, and the City of Seattle Renters Commission, has launched a campaign to win universal rent control, free from corporate loopholes, and designed to take effect the moment the state ban on rent regulation is lifted. Already, they have collected 12,000 petition signatures in support! Please check out Councilmember Sawant’s new rent control website and FAQ for more information, and then sign the petition.
Kshama Sawant’s draft legislation includes:
- No more big rent increases! Rent hikes will be limited to no more than inflation annually (tied to the Consumer Price Index for wages, CPI-W), which has averaged 2.3% annually over the past decade. Responsible small landlords will be unaffected and can continue to cover their costs (this measure reflects increases in property taxes), but this will stop corporate landlords from price gouging their tenants.
- No corporate loopholes: All residential rental homes are covered citywide, regardless of the type of home and date of construction. No corporate loopholes like “vacancy decontrol” — rental homes will remain rent-controlled in between tenants, including when a tenant vacates of their own volition.
- One-to-one replacement: To prevent "renovictions" and maintain affordability, development must replace demolished housing units one-for-one at existing rent-controlled rates. For example, if a landlord is redeveloping a 10-unit apartment building into a 100-unit apartment building, 10 new units have to be maintained at the old rent. The other units could start at any rent but would be rent-controlled and limited to inflation going forward.
- Lift the statewide ban: The Democratic Party has a majority in the State House and the Senate, as well as control of the Governor’s mansion, yet lifting the ban on rent control wasn’t even discussed this legislative session. What’s stopping the state legislature from lifting the ban is its ties to corporate real-estate interests. Building a fighting movement to win rent control in Seattle — effective the moment the state ban is repealed — will put immense pressure on the legislature in Olympia to repeal the ban. We cannot afford to wait any longer for the political establishment to act.
Tax Big Business for a Major Expansion of Social Housing!
Seattle has been the construction crane capital of the U.S. for four years running. Of an estimated 31,000 new market-rate apartments opened from 2008-2017, 92 percent were luxury units. But housing affordability is simply not “trickling down,” as Chamber-backed political candidates argue that it does. At the same time that 1 in 10 luxury units sit vacant, a renter in District 3 is evicted every other day, and Seattle has the highest per capita homeless population.
Market-rate private housing development is unaffordable by design. According to a recent report in Sightline Institute, as of a few years ago, investors typically expected a yield-on-cost of 5.8 percent. The report notes that if that was reduced even to a 2 percent profit, the rent on a $2,200 apartment could be cut in half to $1,100! But as the Sightline Institute also acknowledged that while “billions of dollars flow into apartment construction annually,” these “giant institutional investors seek to maximize returns, not social benefits.”
Since the private for-profit developers are clearly incapable of building housing that’s affordable to working people, we need to fund public programs to build and manage the high quality affordable housing necessary to meet the needs of residents, also called “social housing.” By cutting out the developers’ profits from the equation, it’s possible to build massive numbers of social homes and provide an alternative to the failed private market.
Yet while a lot of candidates say they support expanding affordable housing, a key question is “who pays?” Seattle and Washington State have the most regressive tax system in the country. Ordinary homeowners and all working people pay more and more, while the big corporations and super wealthy turn our city and state into a corporate tax haven. The billionaires, big companies and mansion dwellers who live in our region should pay their fare share for housing and other services to decrease the tax burden on workers and middle-class people.
- Bring Back the Amazon Tax: Homes for All! Shamefully last year, the City Council majority bowed down to Jeff Bezos’s corporate bullying and repealed the Amazon Tax just weeks after passing it. Despite this, we showed what’s possible and inspired victories across the country, including two progressive corporate taxes passing in the San Francisco area (including the “Google Tax”) and New York City residents stopping a proposed $3 billion corporate handout for Amazon’s HQ2. We need to bring back the Amazon Tax as a step toward funding a massive expansion of affordable social housing — to build tens of thousands of high quality, ecologically sustainable, permanently affordable, city-owned homes, rented at below market-rates and constructed with union jobs.
- Make Big Developers Pay for Affordable Housing: In the midst of this housing crisis, luxury apartments are sitting vacant all over downtown and South Lake Union — we need a vacancy tax on big developers and property-owning corporations. Pass developer impact fees on new developments. These taxes would raise millions for high quality affordable housing.
- Tax the rich, not working-class homeowners! Under Washington’s regressive tax structure — the worst in the nation — taxes are piled onto working-class homeowners who are already at risk of being gentrified out of the district. We need to tax the rich instead and provide need-based relief for property taxes. Create subsidized loan programs for first-time working class homebuyers.
- Inclusionary zoning: The city’s MHA plan and its affordable housing provisions are totally inadequate. We need full inclusionary zoning requiring developers to build a minimum of 25% affordable housing on-site in all new rental housing.
- Require one-to-one replacement of existing affordable housing: Too often, affordable and safe buildings are demolished by corporate developers to make way for more luxury condos and apartments. Councilmember Sawant's office stands with all those struggling to defend their affordable housing, like the low-income seniors at the Halcyon mobile home park who won a one-year moratorium on development but need protection of their homes enshrined into law.
End Homelessness: Build Affordable Housing & Fully Fund Services!
Twelve thousand people are currently homeless in King County, disproportionately women, LGBTQ people, and people of color. Four years ago, the City of Seattle declared a homelessness “state of emergency.” A decade before, in 2005, the City Council passed a resolution vowing to end homelessness within 10 years.
Yet year after year, the corporate establishment continues to fail to address the crisis. Last fall, the mayor proposed less than 1% of the budget to build affordable housing — not a penny more than the previous year. In fact the Mayor and city establishment could not have legally budgeted less for affordable housing if they tried. Compare that to the opaque and unaccountable $363 million budget of the Seattle Police Department, nearly five times more than the city spends on affordable housing!
Ending homelessness will require bold solutions and the political courage to tax big business and the rich for a major expansion of affordable housing and homeless services.
- End homelessness! Fully fund an emergency plan to immediately offer decent shelter and affordable housing for the thousands of homeless people on Seattle’s streets, paid for by taxing big business.
- Expand tiny house villages: Tiny house villages have proven to be one of the most effective ways to transition people out of homelessness, by providing the safety and dignity necessary to start the work of finding jobs and permanent affordable housing (if it exists). Also, in Seattle’s self-managed tiny house villages homeless residents are empowered to democratically manage their own communities, which is important for human dignity, allowing people to begin to overcome the trauma, isolation, and alienation of unsheltered life. Seattle should significantly expand the number of tiny house villages, as outlined in Councilmember Sawant’s draft ordinance.
- Fully fund services: Fully fund shelter programs like SHARE/Wheel and all social services, including full access to mental health services and services for the disabled, veterans, seniors, and families in crisis.
- Safe consumption sites: Don’t criminalize addiction! Safe consumption sites are proven to help people escape addiction, by getting them the treatment they need. Our People’s Budget movement fought for and won a budget amendment Councilmember Sawant sponsored to fund a community health engagement location (CHEL/safe consumption site) in November of 2017. Unfortunately, Mayor Durkan has left those funds unused, which is why Councilmember Sawant passed a budget amendment requiring the mayor to show her progress. We need to continue organizing to make safe consumption sites a reality.
- Stop the sweeps! Without affordable homes or other shelter, the sweeps only move people from one street corner to the next, only with fewer belongings and greater desperation — to the tune of approximately $10 million annually in city funds. Seattle has conducted over 1,000 sweeps, with the only tangible impact being an increase in human misery.
Fight Evictions & Gentrification!
The crisis of affordable housing in Seattle, lack of rent control, and weak tenant rights laws, have combined to lead to an epidemic of evictions. On average, one District 3 resident is evicted from their home every other day. Women and people of color are hit hardest, with black renters experiencing eviction filings at a rate 4.5 times higher than others. Perhaps most tragically, the total amount of back rent owed by everyone facing eviction in 2017 was a little under $1 million — less than the CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos makes in one hour!
- We need economic evictions assistance: Pass economic evictions assistance to make big landlords pay moving fees of three-months rent to tenants being forced from their homes by big rent increases (10% or greater).
- End “renovictions”: Renovations, including arbitrary and cosmetic fixes, currently count as “just cause” for evicting residents and dramatically raising rents. Seattle should require, as a condition of issuing building permits, that landlords maintain rents at existing levels after work is completed. As a condition of issuing a building permit involving rental units, make landlords prove they have found suitable interim accommodation at the same rent for all tenants who will be displaced due to renovations; and that tenants have the right to move back into their unit, or a new replacement unit, at the same rent they were previously paying once renovations are complete.
- Ban evictions over small amounts / arbitrary fees: Over half of Seattle’s eviction filings are for rent payments one month or less behind. On top of that, 20% of evictions were the result of fees imposed by the landlord, and had nothing to do with rent. Seattle should mandate such cases are settled outside of housing court, where residents all too often face eviction.
- End Three-Day “Pay or Vacate” Notices — mandate six-week payment plans: Due to powerful real-estate lobbying at the state level, landlords in Washington State are only required to offer three days to catch up on rent. Three quarters of all eviction proceedings are issued less than two weeks after a tenant falls behind. Management companies should only be allowed to file for an eviction if they can demonstrate they tried to work out a reasonable payment plan. A similar pilot program in New York City resulted in 63% of evictions being avoided when tenants were offered six weeks to catch up.
- Fund legal services for tenants: A tenant with any legal representation in housing court is twice as likely to stay in their home. New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco launched taxpayer-funded programs to provide lawyers in housing court. Through our People’s Budget movement and Kshama Sawant’s office, Seattle created first-ever free legal services for Seattle tenants in 2018. Currently, only one such attorney has been funded - the program should be expanded to one attorney for each of the seven Seattle districts.
- Cancel renters’ debts on evictees: The current housing court system resembles a debtors’ jail. Renters who had trouble paying the rent often walk out further in debt after the eviction process and still without a place to stay. The median amount owed by renters facing eviction was $1,200, but the median court judgment was $3,130, including rent owed, non-rent charges, and legal costs. This debt should end with the eviction process, instead of acting as a barrier to affording another place to live.
Build the movement to win
Corporate politicians will talk about the need for affordable housing, but we cannot fall for lip service. The for-profit housing market is broken, and our city’s political establishment has utterly failed to address the housing or homelessness crises. Meanwhile, big developers like Vulcan are bankrolling the Chamber-backed candidates in all seven City Council races to try to buy this election. We cannot let them.
We need to build a powerful movement of working people, renters, and ordinary homeowners – a movement unafraid to stand up to real estate speculators, corporate developers, and wealthy landlords – to win the kind of bold policies needed to provide homes for all.