Capitol Hill rally goes off without her but Sawant ready to make another push for rent control in Seattle

Rent control was the topic on everyone’s mind at All Pilgrims Christian Church in Capitol Hill Saturday night as Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant’s office and other local organizations hosted a rally to build momentum for the controversial — and currently illegal — policy.

But Sawant was nowhere to be found.

The Socialist Alternative council member who is facing a contentious reelection campaign for her District 3 seat excused herself from the event because of the threat of an ethics complaint for participating in a political rally after ballots have dropped for the August 6 primary.

Several of Sawant’s challengers for the seat criticized her in the lead-in to the rally for holding council-related events so close to the August 6th Election Day.

“Kshama is clearly using her city office to advance her political campaign by holding a city-sponsored rally and promoting it with her campaign,” entrepreneur and D3 candidate Logan Bowers said Friday, adding “Good policies and good leaders don’t need to resort to unethical tactics when they’re working in the interests of their constituents. We deserve better.”

“If Sawant is using city money to hold an election rally, I find this an egregious breach of trust and another reason why we need a change in leadership,” Broadway Business Improvement Area head Egan Orion said.

“The timing of the upcoming rent control rally is questionable. It would appear she is using this ‘City Council-sponsored event’ to her advantage,” neighborhood activist Pat Murakami told CHS. “Sawant jumped on the rent control issue late, only within the last few months.”

Even without the effort’s standard bearer, the night remained one dedicated to movement-building, and a raucous one at that.

“Justice happens because we make it happen,” said Nikkita Oliver, a 2017 Seattle mayoral candidate and founder of The Peoples Party of Seattle.

Sawant announced her rent control ordinance in mid-April, and since then a campaign has gathered more than 10,000 signatures for a petition on the issue.

“We have two choices,” Sawant said at a press conference at City Hall when she first announced her proposal. “One, just sit on our hands and expect that some day, in the distant future, the Democratic establishment will gather the courage to break from the real estate lobby and finally stand with us. We’ve done that kind of waiting for 40 years.”

“Or we can begin the fight here.”

In an early April letter to the council, the Seattle Renters’ Commission urged the body to implement rent control legislation that would be effective pending a lift on the state’s ban on the practice passed in 1981.

The council passed a resolution in 2015 pushing the Legislature to allow local governments to implement their own rent control policies.

Murakami added in her email that Sawant should concentrate on convincing state lawmakers, a necessary hurdle for any rent control measure.

“Rallies in Seattle aren’t going to change State Law, which is required for rent control to be a reality,” she said. “Sawant should be focusing on lobbying in Olympia if she is sincere about rent control.”

Clifford Cawton, housing chair for the Seattle King County NAACP, got at this point Saturday, saying he wanted to start with Seattle, then take the movement further.

“We shall stand in solidarity with our communities and demand that the Seattle City Council passes rent control, then we’re going to take it to the county, and then we’re going to demand a lift on the ban on rent control in Washington state,” Cawton said to some of the loudest applause of the evening.

In a recent survey of District 3 candidates by the Seattle Times, only Orion, who is endorsed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and Bowers said that the city could not benefit from rent control.

“I will not support a horrible policy like rent control,” Orion told CHS. “It would devastate our rental market. There should always be market forces at work; in a capitalist system like we have, that generally produces the best outcomes.”

Murakami, Seattle School Board member Zachary DeWolf, and public defender Ami Nguyen answered the Times’s question by saying the practice could “maybe” benefit the city. Sawant was the only candidate to unequivocally say it could help.

Many Seattleites, including representatives from several unions, came out in force on the balmy Saturday night to cheer for controls on rents that have skyrocketed in recent years and pushed people out of their homes.

“It’s not maybe rent control,” said Matt Maley, of the Seattle Education Association. “It’s we need rent control now.”

This urgency was a common theme among many speakers at the rally as some wished to move closer to their Seattle jobs and cut down on their commute or get closer to their child’s school.

The council’s Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renter Rights Committee, which Sawant chairs, is expected to discuss draft legislation for rent control for Seattle on September 11th at 6 PM at City Hall. By then, of course, Sawant will either be in a battle for her seat with the other top vote getter from the August Primary — or finishing up with a lame duck end to her tenure at Seattle City Hall.

 

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33 thoughts on “Capitol Hill rally goes off without her but Sawant ready to make another push for rent control in Seattle

  1. Sawant must really be worried if she’s starting to behave as if rules apply to her, rather than just the little people.

    And, in the interest of journalistic accuracy, you should have identified Matt Maley as a “Socialist Alternative” apparatchik.

  2. “Sawant jumped on the rent control issue late, only within the last few months” -Pat Murakami

    What? Rent control has been one of Sawant’s main issues for the entirety of her term. Does she remember in 2015 when Tim Burgess watered down the resolution that Sawant and Nick Licata proposed calling on the state legislature to repeal the ban on rent control?

  3. Again, why isn’t there a Landlord’s Rights Committee or a Landlord’s Commission in city government advising the Council? Oh, that’s right. Because the Council has no interest in listening to landlords, who might have something relevant to say about housing policy in this city.

    And kudos to Logan Bowers for calling out Sawant’s obviously unethical behavior. She and Trump employ the same tactics to advance their respective reelection campaigns. She can’t be gone soon enough for me.

  4. We’ve had a lot of people move to the City over the last decade and that has squeezed housing supply and driven a huge rise in both rents and purchase prices. Whether you agree with their scope or implementation, the HALA upzones and ADU/DADU changes at least attempt to address the underlying shortage of housing units. Yes, the new units might be (likely will be) more expensive, but new units are still new units and they help soak up all the new tech workers who can afford those rents, lessening the incentive for lower income units to get flipped. On the other hand, at its best rent control does nothing to address the underlying supply issue, it just picks winners (existing tenants) and losers (new tenants in unregulated buildings), and at worst it will actively discourage new units or shift rental units into condo conversions.

    The one thing Seattle has actually done comparatively well relative to places like NYC or the Bay Area is build, build, build, to try and mitigate the price affects of growth. There is a time lag for units to reach market, which we saw in 2012-2017, but those units are hitting the market now and rents are stabilizing. A much more productive debate would focus on how we sustain that level of housing production without diminishing the quality of life for both existing and new residents. Rent control is just a side show distraction.

    • Well said. I haven’t seen any successful examples of rent control. San Francisco has rent control right now and its rental market is a disaster.

      Rent control doesn’t get more people housed. When you take units off of the free market for rent control, the remaining free market units become more expensive as there’s fewer of them. Basically, most people’s rent goes up a little bit to subsidize a few winners that happen to get rent controlled units.

      In San Francisco, I know people who have been sitting in rent controlled units for decades, even when their income has increased well beyond justifying rent control.

      Being in a rent controlled unit is a bit of trap — you either can’t afford to or don’t want to move anywhere else (unless you happen to find another rent controlled unit). Not to mention landlords have little incentive to upkeep and invest in these units. The quality of the units falls over time until it matches the fixed price.

      Economics is a force of nature — rent control is just swimming upstream.

      • The big problem with rent control in SF (and most other places) is that there are no limits on how much the rent can be raised between tenants. This not only fails to protect low-rent housing stock over the long term, but it also provides an incentive for landlords to push tenants out when the market is hot.

        Yes, rent control is “swimming upstream.” I agree. But that’s better than drowning.

    • No, rents are not stabilizing. Rents are rising higher than ever before. Time for law to step in – as the landlords are clearly not capable of responsible housing management. They need to be supervised!

    • No, you are incorrect – rents are not stabilizing. Rents are rising higher and faster than ever before. Time for law to step in – as the landlords are clearly not capable of responsible housing management. They need to be supervised.

  5. We need to get rid of all SIngle Family Zoning in this city. Rent Control is not a solution to our problems. We need more housing, we need to upzone all SFO Zones.

  6. There is a very informative Freakonomics podcast about why economists almost universally consider rent control a bad idea.

    Consider a family of 5 in a 4 BR rent controlled apartment in NYC. Maybe the kids get older and move out and eventually maybe one of the parents passes away. Now you have one person living in a 4 BR apartment in a city with limited housing and no incentive to move out. Why would someone move to a 1 BR apartment that costs three times the amount?

    Also, developers and landlords aren’t just going to take it in the shorts. If they are forced to rent out their properties for less than market value many will just convert their apartments to condos or build in a different city. Limiting supply and driving up rents for the units that aren’t rent controlled.

    Rent control also encourages run down properties and slum lords. There’s no incentive to put more money into a property that won’t bring back a return.

    Just food for thought. Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean that it is.

    Rent control certainly would help the lucky few but would hurt the vast majority of renters.

  7. The fact that Sawant is still, regardless of the borgious election cycle, trying to actively legislate and participate on street-level politics (instead of being sidetracked by frivolous campaigning and big talk like almost every other candidate) is EXACTLY why she is an excellent public servant and one that is greatly appreciated in out beautiful city.

  8. It is obvious that the “Rent Control Rally” was in reality a campaign event, so I’m glad that Sawant had to cancel. If the rally, and associated costs (like the multitude of posters), were indeed financed with Council (taxpayer) funds, then that is an egregious ethical violation, and I sure hope someone is looking into the facts of the matter. Eventually, as she continues to skirt election rules, she’s going to have to answer to the Seattle Ethic and Election Commission (SEEC).

    • She hasn’t been sanctioned yet despite numerous complaints. She’s proud of her corruption. The end–glorification of Sawant and her silly ‘movement’–justifies the means. Kshama’s a circus act that can’t even put up a tent.

  9. I have mixed feelings on Sawant’s policies but I’ve come to see her as a danger to her own stated goals. She wants to make housing more affordable but she obstructs housing development. It seems that the only plan accept is her plan and anything else that might achieve the similar effects will be met with opposition.

    Thus her attempt to rally support for affordable housing is laudable however her myopic focus on doing it through rent control (and defending the plan with rhetoric rather than analysis) is really unfortunate.

    It’d be nice to have a comparable candidate that’s still interested in the same problems but is open to solving them any way that works.

  10. Sawant’s famous for packing hearings and marches to make it seem she has more support than she actually does. How many people attended this rally? Of them, how many weren’t politically affiliated with Sawant?

    • Hmm interesting point — are they fake people Kshama packs into hearings/marches/rallies? Robots? Mind-controlled puppets?

      Or could it be that she actually is able to mobilize people who support the issues she fights for into action and has a base of support…what a crazy thought. (from

      • This is a city of 800,000 people. Socialist Alternative’s membership count is under 200. That’s 0.025% of the city but it’s the same 200 people that show up at all her events and all her rallies and all her committee hearings and every city hall event to scream as loud as possible.

        Sawant would have us believe that, based on the loudness and stage-acted passion of her 200 buddies, she has a mandate from the people and a clear majority of support. In actuality, she has a mandate from 1/40th of 1% of the people, and the other 99.9875% just don’t feel the need to organize themselves and go scream and hoot and holler and chant for hours at a time over Kshama Sawant’s latest crusade.

  11. adorable. I will say this for our little Trump of the left, she has a rabid, if not ill informed, group of followers. they even have catchy chants. “Tax the Rich” “Seattle needs rent control” “Anyone but Sawant”
    Okay that last one is just on a loop in my head, but has a ring to it.

  12. Don’t forget about how Airbnb and other short term rentals are taking up a lot of available housing. Amsterdam limited such rentals to 30 days a year. This has opened up housing for people who live in Amsterdam.

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