Kshama Sawant once again took on corporations and challenger Egan Orion was a no show in a forum on housing and homelessness Monday downtown, posing next month’s election as one between a champion of the working class against a business-backed candidate.
“Amazon, big business, the [Seattle Metropolitan] Chamber of Commerce are engaged in an attempted hostile corporate takeover of this election,” Sawant said. “They want to flip City Hall to the right.”
Sawant has made this pitch at countless forums in the past several months, but this time her opponent wasn’t there to defend himself. Challenger Orion didn’t attend the forum despite being listed as confirmed to attend on the organizer’s website. The Broadway Business Improvement Area head — who has been the beneficiary of more than $163,000 in independent expenditures from the Amazon-funded Chamber’s political action committee in the general election — didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
On housing, Sawant highlighted her controversial push for citywide residential rent control, which she has pushed despite little momentum in Olympia to overturn the statewide ban on the practice.
“It is going to be the most important citywide anti-displacement strategy because people who are homeless now or economically evicted now, today, will be economically evicted next year, next month, even next week,” Sawant said, after also calling for commercial rent control and ending sweeps of homeless encampments.
“This is inevitable given the skyrocketing rents.”
She noted the uphill battle to get this implemented, saying she would need an “all mighty movement.”
In past interviews, Orion has told CHS that he thinks Oregon’s rent stabilization, which limits rent increases to 7% annually plus inflation and exempts new construction for 15 years, would be a “more balanced remedy” than Sawant’s plan.
“Council member Sawant’s proposed rent control plan – released six weeks before the election after six years of talking about it – is unworkable,” Orion said in a statement in late September after the incumbent released her draft legislation. “Not only is it illegal under state law, but it’s also not a solution to the issues at hand.”
Orion also believes renters should have three month notice periods on any rent increases.
Orion, who talks often of his desire to enshrine shelter as a human right into city law, has called for a vacancy tax on empty units to build a fund to get people into temporary and permanent supportive housing.
To avoid this tax, Orion says property management companies could opt into a program that provides housing that is usually rented at market-rate at affordable housing pricing. This would include subsidies from the fund juiced by vacancy tax dollars.
Orion would also like to see increased shelter beds, which he would pay for through a one-year increase in the hotel occupancy tax.
The added revenue, estimated at $50 million, would go directly to building and maintaining shelter.
“Those experiencing homelessness need 24/7 shelters so they aren’t forced back onto the streets in the morning,” Orion’s website reads. “All new and existing shelters should be a place to access services, get stable, get fed, and get on the path to permanent housing.”
He would work with King County, as well, to bond $500 million to create 1,500 units of supportive housing for those who are chronically homeless, which would be paid for with general fund dollars over a 20-year period.
Sawant repeated several times throughout the forum her call for a massive expansion of social housing funded through the employee hours tax, or head tax, on Seattle’s biggest businesses that was quickly repealed after the council originally passed it last year.
“We don’t need more research into what options we have,” Sawant said, calling the head tax the “epitome of a progressive tax.”
Sawant cited the displacement of the LGBTQ+ community in Capitol Hill and the African-American community in the Central District as reasons those neighborhoods should receive increased affordable housing.
She also noted that accessibility and environmental stability through increased density and renewable energy need to be priorities in conversations around housing while affordability remains the focal point.
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Sawant used attacks on big business to book end the 75-minute forum.
“We are in the last two weeks of the election; the outcome of this election will decide which direction the city will go. We have, on the one hand, the vast majority of working people, middle-class homeowners, renters, united in this that we need to make our city equitable and affordable for everybody,” she said. “On the other side, we have all these big corporations that are funneling so much money into corporate PACs this year that this year has become historic.”
“Seattle is a test lab. If we let them do it here, they will do it in other cities.”
The forum, which included candidates from five districts across Seattle, was hosted by the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on Homelessness, its Housing Task Force, and The Urbanist.
Ballots were sent out last week and drop boxes are now open. Election day is November 5, with ballots due by 8 p.m that day. That being said, Sawant and Orion are still on the forum circuit. Africatown Community Land Trust, for example, is hosting an event with the candidates on Friday night at the Central Area Senior Center.