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Sawant and Orion trade blows on housing and homelessness in Real Change debate

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant repeatedly attacked her Seattle City Council member challenger Egan Orion on housing and homelessness in an online debate, accusing him of using the same tactics as people who are “peddling Republican talking points.”

“He believes that the solution to the housing affordability crisis is to build more market housing,” Sawant said at an online forum on Facebook Tuesday night. The Broadway Business Improvement Area administrator quickly responded that this isn’t what he believes.

The local rent control champion also claimed that he used questionable numbers on rent increases in the city to back up his argument, arguing that he was trying to “minimize the deep affordability crisis we are facing by quoting spurious statistics like rents only went up by 1% last year.”

Apartmentlist.com found renters in the city of Seattle who stayed put are paying 1.4% more now than in October of last year. “Seattle’s year-over-year rent growth lags the state average of 1.7%, but is in line with the national average of 1.4%,” according to the service.

The extensive online forum was hosted by Real Change News, Washington Community Action Network (CAN), Hand in Hand, and Casa Latina. The recording of the event, which includes Spanish translations on the fly, can be watched in full on Washington CAN’s Facebook page.

In a CHS survey of candidates during the primary, Sawant focused her response on homelessness to housing affordability and social housing, rent control, the expansion of tiny home villages, and the end of sweeps of encampments. Orion, meanwhile, said he would look at how other cities are finding solutions. “Atlanta’s housing program called ‘Open Doors’ is based on a model first piloted here in Seattle in which those who need
housing are placed in market-rate housing at no cost to them, which only proves there is housing available if we are willing to pay the price to house those who are currently unsheltered,” he wrote, adding that he also would follow New York City’s lead to enshrine the right to shelter in the city charter.

This week’s session marked one of the more forceful blasts of criticism that Sawant has levied on her opponent as the race enters its final stretch and Orion remains a contender with big money supporting him and a strategy of putting Sawant’s Socialist Alternative politics at the forefront of his attacks.

Orion was also pushed by the moderator to clear up his stance on homeless encampment sweeps after saying “the no notice sweeps” aren’t working and “don’t solve the problem.” He was then asked to clarify if he was categorically against sweeps or the lack of notice.

“My position is that no one should be sleeping on the streets; that we should be providing housing for everyone who needs it and that if we are moving people without giving them shelter or housing, that that is inhumane, unless it’s for a public health or public safety concern,” he said. “It’s retraumatizing people that have already been traumatized and it’s costing us like $10 million a year that could be used on housing.”

Sawant agreed with her opponent that this money should go toward other programs.

Another questioner, housing activist Gina Owens, said she heard a “flip flop double standard from [Orion] just tonight” after he told the Stranger in April that he wants to work with local software companies to build “for lack of a better term—a tracking system” and then seeming to walk this back when asked about privacy concerns on Tuesday.

“The whole point of the work that the city does is to lift people and give them an opportunity and give them housing, and so if the work that we’re doing to track data is stopping them from seeking that, then stop right there” Orion said.

There is a database from the federal government to collect data on homelessness services.

Sawant also claimed that the former head of the now-shuttered Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce panders to audiences.

“We have many candidates this year, including my opponent, who will say things that voters want to hear, which is that we need to expand permanent supportive housing, we need to expand services for homeless community members, which of course we all agree with,” said Sawant, who has served on the council since 2014. “But the question that remains unanswered is how will you actually fund those services and affordable housing.”

Owens pushed Orion later on how he would fund more housing, to which he responded with his hopes for a progressive business-and-occupation tax, a higher earners income tax depending on the state Supreme Court, and a tax on foreign investors that speculate on local properties. Orion also supports a vacancy tax on empty apartments.

Orion said during the forum that he wants to bond with the county to get 1,500 units of permanent supportive housing at the beginning of next year.


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25 thoughts on “Sawant and Orion trade blows on housing and homelessness in Real Change debate

  1. “We have many candidates this year…who will say things that voters want to hear…But the question that remains unanswered is how will you actually [do these things].”

    Sawant should include herself in this statement. She makes a lot of noise and puts up a bunch of posters but hasn’t shown much in the way of accomplishments after 2 terms on the council.

    • “…hasn’t shown much in the way of accomplishments after 2 terms on the council.”

      For a very fractured city council, I think she’s done a lot–It’s not like she can act unilaterally. I feel like that criticism is kind-of like criticizing the Democrats for not getting anything done when republicans held the house and senate.

      I do hear this sentiment a lot, but is there a councilperson you can think of who’s done more or been particularly more effective?

      • From my perspective, what she has really accomplished is to create a greater emotional divide within our community. You can agree or disagree with what she is trying to do, but her means is really no different than Donald Trump’s. It’s basically, “trust me.” And if you don’t, you are an idiot and a Capitalist or worse, a Republican. Gee whiz. Just like Donald only on the other end of the shelf.

      • @TurnCalAndersonIntoADogPark

        “…is there a councilperson you can think of who’s done more or been particularly more effective?”

        No, and that’s a problem too. But I’m less concerned about the whole council as I am the person that represents the district I live in.

        What I hear a lot of, from Sawant supporters, is “…I think she’s done a lot…”. To that I ask, like what? What’s the list of things she’s done that has benefited our community?

        She didn’t tax the rich. Didn’t tax Amazon. Won’t get rent control through even if the city adopts it. The most I’ve seen from her is raising her voice to help push $15 Now through. And that wan’t even all her.

        I just don’t feel that she (or the current council) has been very effective. I think it’s time to let some other people give it a try.

      • HTS3, I get that many people are upset by Kshama, and I can think of a lot of valid criticisms, but the comparison to Trump is just ridiculous. She’s a woman, an immigrant, a person of color, and someone who takes uncompromising positions in her advocacy of the working class and the disenfranchised; comparing her to Trump because she has a bad attitude or whatever is just not serious.

        And Zebbleoop, I hear that, and I think that’s a wholly valid way to feel. But, can you really imagine the chamber of commerce candidate who blew past the other primary candidates on a wave of PAC money actually standing up for progressive issues? The solution has to be flipping the rest of the council (eg S.Scott) to better and more progressive representation. Giving up and voting for the challenger to the right is a sure way to, well, bring the council to the right.

    • Definitely. Orion listed a few different potential funding streams and the contingencies for each. Bonding with the County for PSH is a real option, as I understand it.

      On the other hand, the head tax, income tax, and rent control are DOA.

    • @TurnCalAndersonIntoADogPark

      First, you assume that I’m a bleeding edge “progressive”; which I am not. I vote democrat but realize that there’s compromise involved in governance. I tend to see myself as left of center – think social liberal, fiscal conservative – and there are a lot of us out here. What I can’t see is voting for someone, based on their political title, who hasn’t really shown results (still waiting for a list of things Sawant has accomplished in her two terms). That person had their chance and maybe someone who isn’t quite as progressive, yet still not an alt-righter, can implement change. If not, we vote them out. I’m willing to give it a shot.

      I don’t see my position as giving up. Sawant had two terms and failed at most everything she promised (from what I’ve seen. But willing to be shown wrong).

      And while Orion may have PAC money, Sawant is funded by sources outside the district and the city. Neither candidate can say they are totally clean and funded by the average Joe.

      Yes, Orion may be right of Sawant but I don’t see him as the devil that she and her supporters make him out to be. Again, my opinion, based on what I’ve seen and read. I know who I’m going to vote for and, hopefully, that candidate wins. That said, I do think Sawant will, like Trump, win another turn at leadership because too many people are married to an ideology vs. actual results.

      Not a dig on you or anyone else, just how I see it.

    • Don’t be so obtuse. She’s not like Trump because of the policies she’s pursuing. She’s like him because she’s divisive, vilifies her opponents, considers the constituents that didn’t vote for her the enemy, is more interested in furthering her personal brand than actually governing, and survives by energizing the minority that supports her. Their goals are opposite but means are the same.

      • Bingo.

        Of all the things she could work on and find common ground with other council members, she prefers to pick the most-divisive issues that stand the lowest chance of getting anywhere, and bang those drums the loudest. Meanwhile lots of things that more of the council could get behind, she has no interest in them, because the optics don’t have enough drama attached.

        Who is the better diver? The one who attempts a dive with degree of difficulty 2.0 and pulls scores averaging 8.0? Or the one who attempts a 3.0 and pulls 3’s? Seems a lot of people give more credit for trying 3.0 dives that she mostly fails at.

  2. Question for Orion based on his plan for combating homelessness. From the article: ‘based on a model first piloted here in Seattle in which those who need housing are placed in market-rate housing at no cost to them, which only proves there is housing available if we are willing to pay the price to house those who are currently unsheltered’. Where would the funding for this come from? Would units have to fit within a “voucher standard” ie. rental amount cap? What would the city do to convince landlords to choose someone exiting homelessness, who may not pass screening criteria, over someone who has high income and good housing history? Not knocking his plan, but would love to see details about how to bring it into practice.

    • I agree. The “Atlanta model” is not something I would support. To just plop an addicted homeless person into a $1600/month apartment, at taxpayer expense, is a recipe for failure, even if you could find landlords who would accept them.

      What are needed are more “enhanced shelters” with intensive case management and services (mandatory!) that would help a homeless person to turn their life around. If any other approach is used, there will just be a revolving door.

  3. “Sawant also claimed that the former head of the now-shuttered Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce panders to audiences.”

    That’s gotta be the funniest line of this campaign.

    • Well, everybody knows you have to do like her, and pander to entire *constituencies*, not just the small numbers of people that end up in audiences. Sheesh.

  4. Well, Orion is certainly not going to vote to tax Amazon, zeebleoop; so I think that doesn’t work as a criticism of Sawant.
    The question for me is who represents the have nots vs haves, much as I might disagree with delivery style, that answer is pretty clear. Orion’s “market rate housing” answer for unsheltered people still has me laughing. Even people who make $40-75k in Seattle can’t afford market rate housing.

  5. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Albert Einstein. It’s hard to argue with a genius.

    Come on, things have only gotten worse under Sawant. I might not agree with everything Orion says, but it’s time for a change!

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