Chateau apartment resident and housing justice activist Renee Holmes
Republished below is the latest article from Socialist Alternative about the fight for Social Housing.
Movements of working people and renters, not greedy capitalists, will solve Seattle’s housing crisis.
The affordable housing crisis in the U.S. continues to reach new heights. Nearly 50 percent of all renters are cost-burdened, half a million people are homeless, and tents line the streets of many major cities. Here in Seattle, we see an extreme version of this human tragedy playing out daily. Even as the city tumbles off an affordable housing cliff, Seattle’s establishment politicians – all Democrats – continue promoting corporate developers and supply-side arguments, maintaining the primacy of for-profit development and landlordism.
Following the successful fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage, it was clear that the movements of ordinary people in Seattle would turn to the question of housing affordability and homelessness. In a concerted strategy to shut down public discourse on renters rights, developer impact fees, rent control, and taxing big business to fund social housing, successive Democratic mayors and city councilmembers teamed up with corporate developers in a so-called “grand bargain” that vetoed all of these public policy solutions to address the crisis, and went to war against the city’s housing activists, socialists, and renters. The climax thus far of this offensive was the repeal of the Amazon Tax last summer by Mayor Durkan and most of the city council.
In the past decade of Seattle’s piping-hot real estate market, billions of dollars of private profit have been made in a construction frenzy that has earned Seattle the distinction of being “the 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. Rents have soared more than 75 percent since 2011 to an average of $2,136 per month – completely unaffordable to the average working class household.
A 2017 city report found 86.5 percent of eviction filings were for nonpayment of rent, 52.3 percent of which were one month or less behind. Women and people of color were hit hardest – 81 percent of eviction filings for $100 or less in unpaid rent were against women and 51.7 percent were against people of color, with black renters experiencing eviction filings at a rate 4.5 times higher than others.
Affordable Housing and Renters Rights Victories
Despite concerted opposition from most of city hall, Seattle’s affordable housing movement – including socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant, has won important victories. Kshama and Socialist Alternative played a key role in pushing the city council to pass a resolution calling for the state ban on rent control to be lifted; blocking the construction of a $160 million police precinct and winning $29 million for publicly-owned affordable housing; as well as several landmark tenant rights bills.
But while the affordable housing movement in Seattle has won some important battles, our movement still has a war to win.
A recent meeting of Councilmember Sawant’s Renters Rights committee featured tenants at the Chateau apartments in Seattle’s Central District, which has for decades housed working-class and low-income families, elderly and disabled community members, and Section 8 voucher holders. The tenants are facing eviction and displacement after their building was purchased by Cadence, a $185 million development company which plans to demolish the affordable building at the end of the year to make way for smaller, higher-end apartments.
Renee Holmes, whose 88-year-old aunt Mother Gordon has lived at Chateau for nearly four decades, told the rally of more than 130 community members and housing activists “Our family came from Arkansas in the forties and settled in this area. This is the only area we [African Americans] were allowed to live in. Why does she have to leave? Why do we have to be uprooted from our communities?” Another tenant, Roselle Johnson, is the primary caregiver for her nearby elderly parents, “They depend on me. If Cadence is going to move us out, I don’t know where I’m going to live. Who’s going to help my parents?”
Tens of thousands more working people, especially from communities of color, have faced similarly dire circumstances in recent years.
Tax Big Business to Build Social Housing!
A recent Sightline Institute report titled, “Why’s the Rent So High for New Apartments in Seattle?” explains things from the for-profit lens of the private developer, stating, “the fundamental link between the cost of an apartment and its rent is the yield required by investors. No one’s going to sink a pile of money into an apartment building unless it can reliably deliver a cash flow that makes the investment worthwhile compared with other options such as the stock market.”
According to the report, as of a few years ago, investors typically expected a yield-on-cost of 5.8 percent. For a 2 percent profit, rent on a $2,200 apartment could be cut in half to $1,100! The report then notes, “In rapidly growing Seattle, billions of dollars flow into apartment construction annually, mostly supplied by giant institutional investors that seek to maximize returns, not social benefits. Are there people or institutions with billions of dollars to invest who are willing to accept dramatically lower returns? It seems unlikely.”
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 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 homes in an extremely short amount of time.
Several real-world examples demonstrate the huge potential of public investment in social housing. An article in The Nation notes that massive public investments in social housing were critical components of New York City’s efforts to address past affordable housing shortages: “Between the mid-1930s and 1970s, New York City saw an average of approximately 12,500 units of government-subsidized, below-market housing built each year…In the peak years of the 1950s and 1960s, as many as 20,000 units were built.” These social housing programs provided critical affordable housing to working people on a mass scale. Sadly, decades of attacks both on social housing and rent control have largely erased those gains.
A recent report from the People’s Policy Project, featured in Mother Jones “makes the case for a massive experiment in affordable, government-sponsored ‘social housing’ along the lines of housing built in countries like Finland and Sweden and cities like Vienna, Austria.” To address housing shortages in Sweden in the mid-sixties, the Social Democratic government built one million affordable homes in just 10 years. In Vienna, 60 percent of the population lives in social housing. While establishment politicians will immediately raise prohibitive costs as the main reason not to pursue social housing, the article notes that building 10 million units nationwide “could be covered by undoing the recent corporate tax cut signed by President Donald Trump.”
Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative argue that it’s possible for Seattle and the U.S. as a whole to solve it’s affordable housing crisis, but only if workers and renters join forces to build a movement independent of developers, landlords, and corporate politicians to fight for social housing, rent control, and other socialist policies that put the needs of ordinary people and our communities over developer profits. Renee Holmes summed it up well at the Renters Rights committee, “This is our city. It’s our neighborhood. And we will fight for the right to live here.”
Another victory! Last week, the latest ethics complaints against Kshama Sawant, related to her role as a member of Socialist Alternative, were both thrown out. The complaints include allegations that she has misused her position by being democratically accountable to members of Socialist Alternative, and that the organization was trying to influence her decisions by paying for her travel to attend political events.
The attacks insinuate that Kshama is some sort of puppet whose votes are dictated by Socialist Alternative. This couldn’t be further from the truth: Kshama Sawant has helped to build and to lead Socialist Alternative, and while she is proudly democratically accountable within her working class organization she has also argued through its democratic structures for the political decisions she has taken while in office. Kshama has always been open about the fact that she runs for office as a candidate of Socialist Alternative, which has a proud tradition of democratic decision making and is made up of ordinary people fighting for workers and oppressed communities.
As The Stranger described the initial story from the SCC insight which prefaced the complaints: “People who dislike Sawant took this story as hard evidence of Sawant being mind-controlled by shadowy socialists and unaccountable to the voters of her own district. People who like Sawant laughed at idiots who were surprised that a member of a socialist party shares her power with other members of that party.”
Wayne Barnett, the head of the Ethics and Elections office, dismissed the accountability complaints, writing: “Fundamentally, I believe that elected officials are free to structure their decision-making processes as they wish, subject to the will of the voters every four years. Campaigns are won and lost based on voters’ estimations of whose interests elected officials are serving and whose interests they are not.”
In terms of travel assistance, Barnett also rejected the charges, finding that Socialist Alternative has a regular policy of partially or fully compensating members for travel to political events: “I do not find a persuasive case that there is any nexus between the travel expenses and the organization’s desire to influence Socialist Alternative’s actions. The history of payments for the Councilmember and others to travel lends additional support to my conclusion that these are customary expenses for Socialist Alternative to cover for its members, and not an effort to influence Councilmember Sawant’s official actions.
We should be clear, the real complaint from Seattle’s political establishment is that Kshama answers to working people, not to big business. To the political establishment, there is no worse crime. As Kshama wrote in response to the initial SCC insight attacks: “I plead guilty – to being a democratically accountable socialist elected representative, and not a corporate politician.”
Most politicians make election-year promises to working people, then promptly betray them once elected. When socialists like Kshama run for office, they do so in order to fight for the interests of working people.
This is a stark contrast to the corporate politicians in Seattle, who take their marching orders from Amazon and business lobbyists. For instance, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose election was bought with $350,000 from Amazon, was reported to hold court with an informal kitchen cabinet consisting of lobbyists for corporate clients such as Comcast, Lyft, and Airbnb.
Big business is used to getting their way and pressuring politicians to block overwhelmingly popular progressive legislation. They hate that Kshama can’t be bought and has instead used her position to open up City Hall to working people, building movements to win $15/hr, pass landmark renters’ rights legislation, and organize a People’s Budget each year to fight for the city we need.
Despite Barnett’s decisive dismissal, the decision could well be appealed to the Commission of the Office of Ethics and Elections. Currently, a defamation lawsuit against Kshama, which was also recently thrown out, is being appealed to higher courts. That suit attacks Kshama for calling the death of Che Taylor, an unarmed black man, at the hands of two police office officers for what it was: a brutal murder. At root, the political establishment is furious about Kshama fighting alongside the anti-police brutality movement and calling for key reforms like a democratically elected community oversight board with full powers over the police. Kshama was also the only Seattle city councilmember to vote against the rollback of accountability passed through last year’s city-police union contract.
Ever since our historic victory of $15/hr, big business and the political establishment have attempted to use every possible avenue to try to weaken our movements and discredit Kshama. Each time, they have failed. So far, every lawsuit and every SEEC complaint has been dismissed.
But we should also be clear: the legal system is not the friend of working people. Time and time again, the court system has been wielded as yet another weapon to attack the rights of workers, people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community and defend the “rights” of corporations when all else fails. Landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education (ending racial segregation in schools), Roe v. Wade (legalizing abortion), and Obergefell v. Hodges (legalizing gay marriage) were the result of powerful struggles which created immense pressure for change, and did not come about because of the benevolence of judges or courts.
We should in no way be surprised by these attacks. In an election year when big business is fiercely determined to get progressives and socialists out of City Hall, we should expect more of the same – whether it’s through PACs, the corporate media, new ethics complaints, or the courts. That’s why we must keep building movements to fight for real gains for working people, and we need to have Kshama’s back.
We need more, not fewer, representatives like Kshama who are anchored to a democratic grassroots base, which is critical to withstanding the massive pressures from the corporate establishment. It was exactly this lack of an anchor that led seven of the nine Seattle City Councilmembers to bend to Jeff Bezos’ bullying and betray working people by repealing the Amazon Tax, which they had originally passed unanimously.
This is why Kshama and Socialist Alternative have consistently argued for building a broader political party for working people in this country, to unite our social movements, unions, and community groups together and boldly fight for progressive change, completely independent of corporate money. Such a working people’s party would need to have real internal democratic structures to decide which candidates to run, to debate and decide on a common program and, unlike the Democratic Party, to actually hold those candidates accountable to that program – including their votes – once in office.
As Kshama wrote: “I wear the badge of socialist with honor. I will continue to fight unambiguously and relentlessly to win gains for Seattle workers and for an alternative to this rotten and corrupt system, while fiercely opposing all efforts of big business to give marching orders in this city.”
We’re excited to announce that Kshama Sawant has received the first union endorsement of any District 3 candidate!
We’re proud to have the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609 on #TeamKshama. Representing over 700 workers, IUOE Local 609 is the oldest and largest union local of non-teaching employees of K-12 public schools in Washington State.
As a proud member of AFT 1789, Kshama Sawant has been a consistent fighter for working people and unions on the Seattle City Council. She worked alongside labor to spearhead the fight for the historic $15 minimum wage. Since then, she has led movements to win millions for affordable housing and new renters’ rights laws while standing steadfast and walking the picket lines with union workers: from the SEA strike of 2015 to the SEIU 1199NW strike at Harborview in 2016 to the Teamsters 174 bus drivers and UAW 4121 strikes last year.
35 labor organizations endorsed Kshama during her 2015 re-election campaign. Already, union leaders and rank-and-file members are joining our powerful grassroots campaign. Save the date:
- David Parsons, President UAW 4121*
- Paula Lukaszek, President WFSE 1488*
- John Frazier, WFSE 3488*
- Kathy Heffernan, SEIU 1199NW*
- Salvador Castillo, WFSE 1488*
- Jonathan Rosenblum, UAW 1981*
- Robby Stern
*For identification purposes only
We need your help to meet an urgent deadline!
To defeat Amazon and the corporate political establishment, we will need to build the strongest grassroots campaign in Seattle. We’ve already raised $74,000 without taking a penny from big business, corporations, CEOs, business lobbyists, or big developers. We need to raise another $6,000 by Friday to meet our goal of raising $80,000, in order to:
- Print tens of thousands of flyers and knock on every door in Kshama’s district
- Rent a campaign office — a growing challenge as rents continue to skyrocket in District 3
- Hire field organizers, all paid at least $15/hr
Bill Gates has just joined the richest man in history, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in the world’s most exclusive club — the $100 billion dollar club. They’re the only two members, and together they own as much wealth as half of the US population.
Capitalism has failed working people. Nowhere is the failure of the rotten theory of “trickle down economics” more visible than right here in the Seattle region, where Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos make billions upon billions, while we have an affordable housing crisis, underfunded public schools, strained infrastructure, and the highest homeless population per capita of any major city in the country.
This can’t continue. We need to change Washington’s broken tax system. We need to start taxing the rich, not working people. We may not have billions — wait, hundreds of billions — but we do have hundreds of people who have already pitched in to our fight against the billionaire-backed agenda.
We can’t talk about building the tens of thousands of permanently affordable, high quality, socially owned homes needed to bring down rents, without talking about taxing big business. We can’t talk about a Green New Deal for working people in Seattle, a massive expansion of public transit, making it free and fully electric and creating thousands of family wage union jobs retrofitting homes and businesses to the highest efficiency standards, without talking about taxing the rich.
Make no mistake, billionaires will oppose us.
Washington state’s 14 billionaires have consistently poured cash into keeping their wealth and maintaining control of their corporate agenda. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos spent millions pushing their school privatization agenda with charter school legislation, while Seattle’s public schools face a $40 billion budget deficit. Jeff Bezos was among big business representatives who poured money into defeating Initiative 1098, which would’ve created a desperately needed progressive income tax. Bezos also bullied the majority of Seattle’s City Council into backing down on the crucially needed Amazon Tax.
District 3’s very own billionaire, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, has fought tooth-and-nail against our movements, while on average, one of our neighbors in the district is evicted every day. As Kshama said at our campaign launch, “Howard Schultz — who opposed Seattle’s 15 dollar minimum wage, and last year, put money into killing the Amazon Tax - is a District 3 resident. But I don’t represent him. I will never represent him or his billionaire buddies. I represent all those who stand for social, racial and economic justice.”
For the past five years, Kshama Sawant has unapologetically represented working-class people, even if that means making powerful enemies among Seattle’s corporate elite. To be fully accountable to working people in Seattle, she does not take a dime from corporations, CEOs, business lobbyists, or big developers. As your City Councilmember, she accepts only the average worker’s wage, donating the rest of her $130,000 salary to grassroots social movements.
“Jeff Bezos, I have a message for you: The people of Seattle will not bow down to you. We will not back down.” — Councilmember Kshama Sawant
Thank you to the 200 people who came out this Sunday to the campaign launch to re-elect Councilmember Kshama Sawant!
As Kshama explained: “This is not about me as an individual, it never was. We have won victories again and again because thousands of working people, labor union members, LGBTQ people, renters, and socialists stood up against the bankrupt policies of the corporate establishment.”
The only way we will re-elect Kshama, or win any of the things she is fighting for, is if thousands of people in Seattle fight collectively and unapologetically.
Kshama has fought relentlessly for all the working people in District 3 and across Seattle — which also means taking a bold stand against the very billionaires who profit off of low-wages and sky high rents: “Howard Schultz - who opposed Seattle’s 15 dollar minimum wage, and last year, put money into killing the Amazon Tax - is a District 3 resident. But I don’t represent him. I will never represent him or his billionaire buddies. I represent all those who stand for social, racial and economic justice.”
Together, we raised $15,000 in one night, demonstrating that it’s possible to run powerful grassroots campaigns without taking a penny from corporations, CEOs, business lobbyists or big developers!
LGBTQ community leader and activist Mac McGregor (left), and Youth Climate Strike Organizer Kimaya Mahajan (right)
Defeating Amazon and the corporate political establishment cannot happen without you getting involved.
If you didn’t make it to our campaign launch event on Sunday, can you donate today? We have a goal of raising another $3,000 by this Friday night, to print leaflets and posters, pay field organizers, rent an office, and make this grassroots campaign run. That’s a lot, but if another 200 people chip in $15, we can do it.
Why We’re on #TeamKshama
A few of the many speakers at our campaign launch rally explain why we need to re-elect Kshama Sawant
“Kshama Sawant has always been there for us. She takes up causes that very few people at City Hall are willing to take up - immigration, evictions, homelessness, hate crimes... Kshama leads the way on social justice issues.” — Paula Lukaszek, President of WFSE Local 1489
“Councilmember Kshama Sawant should be re-elected and we should follow her leadership, because she is a person I believe in. I hope the fight she has taken up for rent control is successful, because we need Seattle to be affordable.” — Maru Mora, immigration activist
“If it wasn't for Councilmember Kshama Sawant, we wouldn’t even have known our building was being torn down...The developers just care about profits, but what about us, the people?” — Renee Holmes, Chateau Apartment resident & activist
“For six years we tried to change the racist Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day and no one responded. Councilmember Kshama Sawant responded in just a few hours when we reached out and took up the fight, because that is what her office is for...and in 6 months, we won.” — Matt Remle, Cofounder, Mazaska Talks
“Kshama Sawant will always pick up the phone for my community. I am not a socialist...but if we can work toward a common goal make and fight for the people, that is what matters.” — Ubah Warsame, East African Community Leader and Activist
“Councilmember Kshama Sawant is fundamentally an organizer. And she has made a lot of powerful enemies, but the best way to fight back against that is to have a lot of powerful allies and that’s what we are.” — David Parsons, UAW 4121 President
We’re excited to welcome Lucy Marron, an organizer with the Socialist Party Ireland, to speak at our Campaign Launch Party this Sunday on lessons from the recent victory for abortion rights in Ireland!
This International Women’s Day, let’s remember its socialist roots and renew our determination to fight for a world based on human need, not oppression and profit.
The explosion of #MeToo both as an online phenomena and also a rallying point for workplace actions against sexual harassment, particularly by the Google and McDonalds workers, clearly shows that there is a mood for an organized fightback against sexism.
With a “predator in chief” in the White House who openly brags about committing sexual assault and threatens to repeal Roe v. Wade, our city needs to take a bolder stand for women’s rights.
Let’s take the movement for women’s rights from #MeToo to #Fightback:
Build the movement against sexism, sexual violence, and workplace discrimination.
Establish an elected, independent office to investigate workplace sexual harassment, with full powers to hold corporations accountable.
End the gender pay gap!
Expand the city’s programs against domestic violence! 4 out of 5 people evicted for owing less than $100 are women, and women disproportionately make up the homeless population -- we need rent control and a major expansion of social housing to expand housing alternatives for women leaving abusive relationships.
Free childcare and reproductive health care for all!
Please join us this Sunday at Kshama Sawant’s campaign kick off party and help re-elect a socialist feminist and unambiguous fighter for working people to Seattle’s City Council!
When: Sunday, March 10, 4-7pm
Where: Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (104 17th Ave S) — Grand Rehearsal Hall
$15 donation suggested at the door. No one turned away for lack of funds. Appetizers, beer and wine will be served.
We stand in solidarity with striking teachers in the Oakland Education Association as they fight against privatization, school closures, and the attacks on public education!
Across the country, and here in Seattle, teachers are spearheading the fight to defend public schools. Last year, in the face of a decades-long assault on public education, tens of thousands of teachers took historic action, demonstrating that strikes work! With West Virginia teachers leading the way, more workers went on strike or organized work stoppages than in any year since 1986, with teachers leading the largest struggles.
We should be clear, the crisis in funding for public education is entirely manufactured by the billionaire-backed corporate “reform” agenda: underfunding and closing public schools, privatization through non-union charter schools, and weakening teachers unions. Here in Washington state, the Gates Foundation and billionaires like Jeff Bezos have poured in millions — first to ram through their privatization agenda with charter school legislation (which squeaked by at 50.69%-49.31%, after having been roundly rejected by voters 3 times at the ballot), then to prop up non-union charter schools in spite of them being ruled unconstitutional in state court.
In the state that's home to the two richest people in the world, there is no reason we should not have high-quality, free public education for all and high living standards for educators and staff. But instead of taxing big business and the rich to fund our schools, the corporate politicians in Olympia have granted Boeing an eye-popping $12 BILLION in subsidies, including $8.7 billion in 2013 — the biggest corporate handout in U.S. history.
Unfortunately, a $40 million deficit is currently projected for our Seattle public schools, even with the recently passed education levies. At the same time, our educators and staff are underpaid and increasingly being priced out of Seattle.
We need to tax corporations and the rich to fully fund high-quality public education; stop the privatization of education and the corporate “reform” agenda; dramatically reduce class sizes; establish tuition-free college education for all; support teachers and students campaigning against high-stakes testing and racial disparities; expand anti-bullying efforts; fund free breakfast and lunch programs; and fight for higher wages for our educators so they can afford to live in the neighborhoods where they teach.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant and our grassroots campaign will stand with the SEA educators’ union in their fight this year for a decent contract and quality education for all. As a rank-and-file member herself of the local teachers union, AFT 1789, Kshama proudly walked the picket line with the SEA during their strike in 2015.
We need more elected representatives like Kshama who will use their positions to stand unwaveringly with workers and the labor movement. During the 2015 strike, in addition to walking the picket line, Kshama used every avenue she could to support the courageous members of SEA, including holding a community rally in City Council chambers to build support for the strike, leading the way on a landmark City Council resolution in solidarity with the striking educators, and donating twice from her Solidarity Fund.
Congratulations to all the working people in New York City who defeated a $3 billion corporate handout to Amazon, showing that grassroots movements can win powerful victories against big business! Shoutout also to the Tax Amazon movement in Seattle, which despite the shameful betrayal of Democratic politicians in City Hall, showed that working people in cities across the country should get organized and build a united fightback!
Just today, it was also revealed that Amazon, the world’s fastest growing corporation led by the world’s richest billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos, didn’t pay a cent in federal taxes last year, just like it didn’t in 2017! Amazon nearly doubled its profits to an eye-popping $11.2 billion last year, from $5.6 billion in 2017. It’s the second year in a row the corporation completely dodged the 21% tax rate corporations are supposed to pay (which is already outrageously low thanks to Trump’s corporate tax cuts). In fact, Amazon reported a federal income tax rebate of $129 million, meaning their 2018 tax rate was negative 1%. In other words, our taxes as working people subsidized Amazon’s billionaires.
That’s on top of the fact that, under the most regressive tax structure in the entire country, Amazon has been free from any Washington state income tax. In fact, before the HQ2 announcement, Amazon had already received a staggering $1.61 billion in subsidies from state and local governments to build its empire.
Nowhere is the failure and rottenness of neoliberal, “trickle down” economics more apparent than right here in Amazon’s home city, Seattle. The world’s two richest billionaires live here in King County, yet Seattle’s homeless population is one of the highest per capita in the nation. The crisis gets worse every year, despite the fact Seattle has been the national leader in the number of construction cranes three years running. Seattle now has more unsheltered people than New York City, a city 12 times our size, while at the same time, nearly one in ten apartments sit vacant.
Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos makes enough money every day to pay all the back rent owed by every Seattle resident who faced eviction in 2017!
We can’t have a genuine conversation about building the society working families need without talking about taxing corporations and the rich. But we know that big business will spend big to defend their corporate handouts, and try to defeat our movement and kick me out - a councilmember who can’t be bought. In fact, Amazon alone spend an unbelievable $350,000 in 2017 to buy their mayor, Jenny Durkan, who then led the shameful charge to repeal the Amazon Tax last year that would have funded hundreds of affordable homes every year.
Over the last six years as your city councilmember, I’ve seen firsthand the corrosive effects of corporate power and lobbyists in the back rooms of City Hall. Never had this been more clear than last summer, when 7 of the 9 councilmembers caved to the pressure of massive corporations like Amazon, who opposed even the most modest tax to help address the affordable housing and homelessness crisis. Jeff Bezos threatened 7,000 construction jobs to try to defeat the Amazon Tax, then applied intensive backroom pressure to force its repeal a month after it was unanimously passed by the City Council.
Last year’s Tax Amazon struggle showed how far Amazon and big business are prepared to go when their lavish profits are under threat. We need more, not fewer, working-class representatives who will stand up to corporate bullying, and boldly use their position to fight alongside movements to tax corporations and the rich, even if that means making powerful enemies among Seattle’s billionaire elites.
We need to Tax Amazon and big business for a massive expansion of social housing - tens of thousands of units of social housing to bring down sky-high rents and provide a public alternative to the broken private market. Taxing big business will also allow for a Green New Deal in Seattle - a green public works program which can create thousands of family-wage union jobs for workers, expand public transit and make it free at the point of use and fully electric, and make Seattle a real leader on climate by becoming 100% renewable by 2030.
As climate change makes previously “once-in-a-lifetime” extreme weather commonplace, Seattle’s 2019 snowstorms have battered working-class people with longer, more dangerous commutes; missed hours; and rising childcare costs from school closures. But no group is hit harder than Seattle’s homeless population, who face a literal life-or-death situation and are eight times more likely to die of hypothermia in King County. Tragically, an unsheltered man in Seattle, Derek Johnson, was found dead Thursday morning due to exposure — because without shelter, people die.
Inequality is stark in Seattle. Our city has been the national leader in the number of construction cranes three years running and nearly one in 10 apartments sit vacant, while at the same time, Seattle’s homeless population is one of the highest per capita in the nation. The crisis gets worse every year. Between 2012 and 2018, homeless deaths more than doubled, disproportionately people of color. Seattle now has more unsheltered people than New York City, a city 12 times our size.
The crisis of affordable housing in Seattle, along with weak tenant rights laws, has helped lead to an epidemic of evictions, which often lead to homelessness. On average, one District 3 resident is evicted from their home every other day, and our neighborhoods of First Hill, Capitol Hill, and the Central District see some of the highest rates of eviction in the city. This crisis is entirely preventable: three of four people evicted reported that they could pay all or some portion of the rent owed if a reasonable payment plan was offered. At the same time, the total amount of back rent owed by everyone facing eviction in 2017 was a little under $1 million, less than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos makes in a single day.
Over three years ago, former mayor Ed Murray declared a “state of emergency” over our homelessness crisis. That same year, ignoring calls from Councilmember Kshama Sawant and community activists, the City Council majority and Mayor Murray approved a budget allocating less than 1% of the city’s budget towards addressing the crisis, $10 million under what the Seattle Human Services Coalition recommended as a bare minimum to address the emergency. This type of approach from the political establishment has only continued, as we saw with the shameful repeal of the Amazon Tax last year.
The establishment’s complete failure to address our housing affordability and homelessness crisis has forced City employees and community providers to fill the gap with gravely insufficient resources. That’s why Mayor Durkan’s approach to selecting a new director for Seattle’s Human Services Department, which provides a vital social safety net in our city, is scandalous.
Community members and HSD workers have come forward to Councilmember Sawant’s office to express deep concerns about the Mayor trying to force through this appointment without even having conducted a search for the position, let alone one that was inclusive of the impacted communities, human service providers, and department staff. That’s why Councilmember Sawant is introducing a resolution which, if passed by the City Council, would return the nomination to the Mayor’s office and call for an open, transparent, and inclusive director search and nomination. Join Councilmember Sawant, community members, and Human Service Department workers at City Hall on Wednesday, February 20 at 6pm, and read her response to a letter from Mayor Durkan.
Please join us on Sunday, March 10, to kick off the grassroots campaign to re-elect Kshama Sawant, the councilmember money can’t buy!
When: Sunday, March 10, 4-7pm
Where: Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (104 17th Ave S) — Grand Rehearsal Hall
$15 donation suggested at the door. No one turned away for lack of funds. Appetizers, beer and wine will be served.Read more