This Thursday, Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant will host the People’s Budget to create a movement demanding specific funds stay or be added on to city’s final budget.
We’ve heard it before: “The Seattle City budget is a moral document that reveals the values of our city’s elected officials.” That’s an unsurprising opening line from Sawant. As a socialist, she is steadfast in asking for more on behalf of the disenfranchised, low-income and marginalized.
She feels the primary concern in her District 3 is no different than greater Seattle.
“The paramount concern is the same concern with most working people in this city: The cost of existing,” Sawant tells CHS. “It affects families. It affects small businesses.”
The councilperson points out how Seattle’s rising rent costs are usually discussed in terms of the private citizen. But it also affects the commercial realm. She thus held a business forum and plans to hold one again in the future.
But it’s not all bad. Sawant noted the progresses Seattle has made: what she still calls the Carl Haglund law, the $15 minimum wage, move-in fee limits, and city-authorized homeless encampments.
“It’s not like the city isn’t building affordable housing,” Sawant said. “It’s a question in every city now.”
Sawant insists the solution to affordable housing already exists: a strong movement around City Hall. Every now and again, though, it needs revitalized and rallied.
“[City Hall] is predominated by politicians who’ve taken money from real estate lobbyists,” Sawant said. “Big business does not have to do anything out of the ordinary to keep politicians on their side because that happens already.”
Within this year’s People’s Budget effort, Sawant hopes to additionally focus on domestic violence, social services and stopping homeless sweeps. The sweeps, formulated under previous Mayor Ed Murray, have proven ineffective. There were approximately 135 sweeps last year.
“Homeless people routinely lose their belongings every time,” Sawant said. She went on to call the sweeps “inhumane,” suggesting trash pick-ups and portable toilets instead. “Stopping sweeps doesn’t require money, it’s a provision. It puts conditions on the budget.”
For some, homelessness is a result of fleeing abuse. Sawant put particular emphasis on homeless youth and children. OSPI reported 39,671 homeless children across all of Washington state from 2015-2016. (3,498 of those were from the Seattle Public School District.)
“Children in public schools homeless is an urgent and incredibly destructive experience,” Sawant said. The topic, out of all the homeless ones, is the kind that tends to stick for both sides of the aisle. Homeless youth are perceived as innocent of their living conditions, as if older homeless people aren’t also victims of circumstance. Sawant is using a popular Washingtonian political tactic to address homelessness. But funding specifically so narrow a category can create problems. Youth make up only 13% of the homeless population, according to All Home’s most recent data.
Mayor Tim Burgess’s Budget already includes an additional $63 million for homeless services. It includes domestic violence housing, homeless intervention, healthcare and strategies.
Sawant said that she is also looking at creating a feasibility study for a municipal bank. Seattle used to, and still does for the meantime, bank with Wells Fargo. However, after it was revealed the bank created fake accounts and backed the Dakota Access Pipeline, Seattle moved to cease work with the bank on the grounds of non-exemplary behavior.
“We don’t believe Wells Fargo is a bad apple compared to other private, corporatized banks,” Sawant said, making it sound like all banks are villains. “We need more defined criteria with whom the city can do business.”
Sante Fe already uses a municipal bank while Washington D.C., Berkeley and Oakland are looking into the same. Seattle hasn’t yet completely divested from Wells Fargo as promised because it doesn’t have an alternative lined up.
The People’s Budget hearing will be held Thursday, October 19 in the Seattle City Council lobby at 6 PM.