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May Day: Sawant calls for ‘Rent Strike’ in Seattle — UPDATE

UPDATED 4/16/20 following our interview with council member Sawant

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant says the COVID-19 crisis calls for a rent freeze and relief for vulnerable populations dealing with economic hardship as thousands of workers have been laid off.

Her office representing Capitol Hill, the Central District, and nearby neighborhoods is now planning a May 1st rent strike to put pressure on landlords and politicians to get a statewide suspension of rent, mortgage, and utility payments.

“[T]he political establishment will not act, given their ties to corporate landlords and big business,” she said on Facebook. “It will take a real fight, it will take a Rent Strike! And we will need to be organized, building by building, neighborhood by neighborhood, while of course maintaining social distancing.”

While nearly 9,000 have signed a petition urging Gov. Jay Inslee to immediately enact such a suspension as well as a freeze on rent increases for the rest of the year, Sawant says more needs to be done.

“It’s not that anybody is telling them not to pay rent, they simply don’t have money to pay rent,” Sawant says of the call for a strike.

The Socialist Alternative council member says she is launching this new effort because “individual renters and families, working families, simply saying ‘Well I can’t pay rent, so I’m not gonna pay rent’ doesn’t protect you from eviction. That doesn’t protect you from the corporate landlords and the big banks.”

“We need to understand that renter organizing is no different fundamentally from workplace organizing.” First, she says, renters must collectively organize.


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The council has already passed a resolution calling on state and federal leaders to impose an immediate moratorium on rent and mortgage payments. It also has gotten the ball rolling on Sawant’s legislation, co-sponsored with council member Tammy Morales, to tax Amazon and other large corporations to give immediate relief to thousands of Seattleites.

The state Employment Security Department says hundreds of thousands have filed claims for unemployment benefits and there are reports of more than 300,000 who are either waiting for or have been denied benefits. Washington’s economy lost 11,100 jobs in March and the state’s preliminary seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate for March increased from 3.8% to 5.1%, officials said Wednesday. Washington’s “labor force decline is by far the largest month to month decline since 1990,” the update reads.

Sawant asked in a recent email to supporters: “Have you been laid off during this pandemic? Lost wages due to stay-at-home orders? Were you unable to pay April rent or mortgage? What about May — is that looking impossible?” She adds that “tens of thousands of working-class people in Seattle, and hundreds of thousands across Washington state, are going to be unable to pay rent or mortgage.”

Sawant’s office is hosting a virtual town hall Thursday evening to mobilize for its rent strike, set to start May 1 as residents across the city and county have to make their monthly payments. This is the latest in a series of events Sawant has hosted in the past few weeks with labor leaders from across the country to mobilize for rent relief and the taxation of companies like Amazon.

May 1st, of course, is the start of the next month when many tenants see their next payment come due. The day — of course — also holds a mixed history of labor and immigration activism and the neighborhood’ flare-ups of protester vs. police conflict and violence.

Sawant says her effort isn’t about May Day.

“Our fight is hardly going to stop there. It’s like the opening of the struggle, really, and it needs to go well beyond that and just to be very sober about it, winning a suspension of rent, mortgage, and utility payments is not going to be a small thing,” she said. “At this moment, any talk of limited rental assistance or rent relief is far from enough in the context of the massive collapse of this economy.”

Meanwhile, some of Sawant’s fellow council members have derided her for what they see as a politics of division during a crisis.

Nearly 200 people have RSVPed to attend Sawant’s 6 PM town hall on Thursday, which will be streamed on Facebook, YouTube, and popular gaming platform Twitch. Ads for the event have appeared across social media and on sites including CHS.

Sawant says part of the purpose of the town hall is bringing together the resources needed to support a strike. “There’s no question we need legal resources,” she said, adding that organizers are working with the Housing Justice Project and the National Lawyers Guild.

About a third of renters across the country didn’t pay rent at the beginning of April, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, as layoffs have put personal finances in flux for tens of millions of Americans. Sawant expects that number to rise come May 1 as even more people will be unable to make rent payments.

How much the expected $1,200 checks from the federal government after Congress passed an emergency stimulus package last month will be used for paying rent is unclear. For many, rent can far exceed that figure and The Washington Post reported Tuesday that early evidence shows Americans are using that money to pay for basic necessities like food and gas.

Seattle is not alone in seeing a movement for such a rent strike. Cities like Los Angeles are seeing similar pushes, but the likelihood of them leading to major concessions like a rent freeze from landlords and policymakers is hard to say.

“We are heading into a recession that they are saying is going to be worse than the Great Depression,” Sawant says. “Even if we did nothing, if we did zero organizing, we are still going to see tens of millions of working class people not being able to pay their rent.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said. “What I can guarantee is that if we didn’t fight, then we are all going to lose.”

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The Ghost of Capitol Hill
The Ghost of Capitol Hill
9 months ago

Duh!

Alex S.
Alex S.
9 months ago

Anarchiddos who don’t even pay rent spray-painting “RENT STRIKE!” all over the place = pretty hilarious.

Nope
Nope
9 months ago

If we stop paying property tax then goodbye city council salaries. Notice how they never suggest that…

They could then go and protest at the states inability to pay unemployment benefit to self employed for over a month.

MarciaX
MarciaX
9 months ago

Rent strikes are normally a last-resort tactic against an egregiously abusive landlord and can have serious consequences for individuals, so I don’t support an organized effort to withhold rent. But it’s true that a large and growing number of people will have no choice but to do so. The federal government needs to extend the $1200 relief payments every month for the foreseeable future if widespread social unrest is to be avoided, Sawant or no Sawant. She should not be scapegoated for calling attention to real problems, however abrasively.

TurnCalAndersonIntoADogPark
TurnCalAndersonIntoADogPark
9 months ago
Reply to  MarciaX

I think it seems that Sawant is not calling on everyone to not pay rent so much as hoping that those who wouldn’t be able to make rent anyways will have some sort of political outlet to organize and build solidarity.

If a broad ‘rent strike’ is to have any chance, then it needs to be organized on a building-by-building basis to have any hope of extracting concessions; if only one or two people in each apartment doesn’t pay rent, that adds up to absolutely nothing.

Glenn
Glenn
9 months ago

Actually, she is calling on everyone not to pay rent. Her rhetoric is pretty clear about that. And that call is misplaced if you are trying to address financial issues related to covid-19. Directed rental assistance is the most effective way to assist people having difficulty paying rent. And that kind of payment would be inaddition to whatever people may receive from state unemployment and the weekly $600 federal supplement.

These benefits need to kick in more quickly so people can stop panicking. The State unemployment payment and the $600 weekly federal supplement will provide the most needy previously employed people the equivalent of their annual salary (up to 65k Annually) for four months. I believe state unemployment and the federal benefit will be retroactive to the date of unemployment (somebody correct me if I am wrong), so those people will be getting monthly funds to allow them to make rent. The $1200 federal payment might then be used for other things, groceries, medical, etc. None of this is perfect, but when combined, these benefits should allow many people to meet their financial needs in the near to mid-term.

Sawant is not interested in any of that. She sees this as another opportunity to tear the whole thing down and advance her agenda. I would prefer she concentrate on assisting people in the least disruptive and most effective way.

Bob Knudson
Bob Knudson
9 months ago

Thank you, Glenn. You point out the obvious facts that Sawant is choosing to ignore, and that is that most people will be able to easily pay rent once their unemployment checks (including the $600/week federal addition = $2400/month) come through, which can’t happen soon enough. They will also receive the $1200 from the feds, to be spent on other necessities. In some cases, they will actually receive more income than when they were working.

I believe the unemployment income is due to end in 4 months, but than can be extended if necessary.

Come on right now
Come on right now
9 months ago

Protests are lame.

Virtual protests are SUPER lame.

She bores me
She bores me
9 months ago

Zzzzzz

Remove SaWant
Remove SaWant
9 months ago

It is truly unconscionable for a City Council woman to organize a protest against law abiding landlords. She is an egregious, distasteful, and disgusting ideologue.

Alex S.
Alex S.
9 months ago
Reply to  Remove SaWant

She is horrible and insufferable – but, apparently, these socialists know about a tree that grows money for leaves… so maybe they can finally tell the those of us who earned what we have where all the free money is at!

MarciaX
MarciaX
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex S.

Oh, we know where the money tree is, all right, and it’s been growing pretty much undisturbed for four decades now. It’s about time we gave it a good shake.

Whichever
Whichever
9 months ago
Reply to  Remove SaWant

You would think there would be some sort of laws against an elected official encouraging their followers to do such things.

Joe M
Joe M
9 months ago

While I agree there is an unprecedented financial crisis facing individuals, businesses and governments, advising those who can to withhold rent only deepens the economic problem. Furthermore, this is terrible financial advice. While there is a freeze on evictions, at some point money withheld in May will be enforceable for collection once again. Encouraging people who can pay to go into unnecessary debt for a political stunt won’t accomplish a damn thing. Instead, as an elected official with real power, she should use it to secure federal funds for the financially vulnerable. Unfortunately, state law prohibits so-called gifts of public funds, so local governments do not have a ton of options to give direct support to individuals. They could, however, pass the money through a non-profit. Even so, with a significant reduction in economic activity for the foreseeable future, unless the feds step up big time, even our local governments will struggle to pay the bills. These problems are bigger than a symbolic gesture, we need real solutions yesterday.

No Bueno
No Bueno
9 months ago

The Bolshevik’s are coming! Sawant once called a CD business owner a Kulak. I’m telling ya folks, you better pay attention.

SaWant Everything
SaWant Everything
9 months ago
Reply to  No Bueno

She is a full on Marxist but has updated her terminology. Bourgeois are now ” (white) privileged”, proletariat are now “marginalized”. She is the definition of an overly “educated” wannabe intellectual. Grandstanding off her old, outdated, and verifiably false and dangerous economic theories.

Whichever
Whichever
9 months ago

Rent strikes today, mass evictions once the moratorium is lifted. Good luck renting a place with that in your history.

Shortsighted.

sheryl
sheryl
9 months ago
Reply to  Whichever

Have family member in Seattle totally flattened. Out of work with Covid. He ran an AirBnB out of part of his house while he lived in the basement, and was a restaurant worker. Zero income now. He is concerned that when he does find a renter for his house, likely someone with a job and income, he will be stiffed. Working class people rent their homes – often to high-paying Amazon workers. Rise up! Pay your rent if you can.

Nope
Nope
9 months ago
Reply to  sheryl

The real fight here is to get the state to pay unemployment to self employed, gig workers etc who are now earning zero. Seems like it’s going to be 4-6 weeks to get any money assuming they ever update the website.

Joan Ferguson
Joan Ferguson
9 months ago
Reply to  sheryl

I am a gig worker, a senior, and a landlord, and a widowed mother of two teenagers. My basement apartment makes up a third of my income. My gig job is pretty much toast and if my tenants decide they won’t pay rent, then I lose my house. One of them moved with no notice rather than pay rent. Is this how socialism works? I voted for Sawant but this rent strike idea is so f’up on so many levels that I wish I hadn’t. I can’t just not pay my mortgage, It is not a fed-backed mortgage and I promise you they will waste no time foreclosing.

Bob Knudson
Bob Knudson
8 months ago
Reply to  sheryl

Joan, I am truly sorry for your situation. But why the hell did you vote for Sawant? She has been advocating for Marxist policies ever since she has been in office, so what she is proposing now was entirely predictable. I hate to say it, but you’re getting what you voted for.

char
char
9 months ago

Tired of Sawant’s approach when it is clear that others in regional and local government are clear eyed and compassionate. I feel her approach is pulling away from a unified compassionate response, I think she should find common ground with her colleagues instead of rhetoric such as ‘corporate politicians.’

On the other hand Durkan and other council members seem afraid of raising taxes during this time and they will be judged poorly for that – this is unprecedented.

I thought I voted for a council that had the guts to tax Amazon but I have seen anemic and slow action in that direction. An Amazon tax is finally on the table before the budget committee but the timeline is slow and does not convey seriousness during a crisis – a full vote is not even scheduled for a month. https://sccinsight.com/2020/04/15/schedule-announced-for-amazon-tax-hearings/

Meanwhile, our mayor complains that she cannot take action to house the homeless to stop covid spread – why? Because FEMA has not given her money.

“For more than a month, we have been asking for additional state and federal resources for mass sheltering,” says city spokesperson. “The city simply doesn’t have the resources to surge to the capacity we need without personnel and supports.”

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/heres-what-the-seattle-area-has-and-hasnt-done-to-protect-its-homeless-population-from-coronavirus/

Kshama is leveraging this for her ‘movement’ while the rest of the council and mayor act as if they have little authority, during a crisis where time means lives saved.

Please everyone, show unity, show leadership show authority.

CD REZ
CD REZ
9 months ago
Reply to  char

ughh Amazon pays +$250M annually in local taxes. please stop perpetuating nonsense. They just got a huge pile from Paul Allen’s estate taxes and weed tax is backing in dump trucks. They don’t need any more

MarciaX
MarciaX
9 months ago
Reply to  CD REZ

Only $250 million from Amazon? That’s roughly one-tenth of what they should (and easily could) pay, given their net profit last year was at least $70 billion. Seattle should get a least a couple of those billions, and the state should get four or five more. I think Bezos can spare it.

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
9 months ago
Reply to  CD REZ

why stop there? Why not have every single municipality in the country, wait, no– the WORLD– stick their hand out? After all, people all over the world buy off Amazon. Bezos should fund EVERYTHING!

CD REZ
CD REZ
9 months ago
Reply to  char

lol thanks for the laugh

MarciaX
MarciaX
9 months ago
Reply to  CD REZ

So you really think 0.3% is the right tax rate for Amazon? You must be a pretty major stockholder.

DankuDBT
DankuDBT
9 months ago
Reply to  CD REZ

LOL!!!!
Keep polishing Jeff’s glass balls, sweaty.

Adam
Adam
9 months ago

Can I bill Sawant for the cleanup of the “Rent Strike” graffiti on our condominium? Maybe I should go on a property tax strike and withhold the amount…

HTS3
HTS3
9 months ago

A rent strike. Really. It seems like the strikes that are most effective, there usually needs to be “a bad guy.” You know, that coal mine with unsafe practices, that clothing mill exploiting child labor—or when a government running an entity like a railroad is hit with a strike. I know our Councilperson Sawant sees Amazon as the evil icon, but with this she is targeting all landlords. She must think there is an emphasis on the “Lords.” If you look at the population of landlords, many of them look pretty similar to the renters. They are people. People with families to feed, with mortgages and taxes to pay. Instead of withholding money from some big faceless corporation, she is encouraging people to withhold money from your neighbor. This seems a bit stickier of a wicket.

Yes
Yes
9 months ago
Reply to  HTS3

Exactly, unless you’re living in a 60, 70, 80 + unit building, chances are the landlord is a “mom and pop” shop type where they are locals and own a few buildings. Some are well to do, most make a good living, but it is still a risk and can be A LOT of work.

Dan White
Dan White
8 months ago
Reply to  Yes

I am a small landlord, I have no idea where this thinking comes from. Nothing I do comes easy. Housing Providers are the only business that is expected to provide goods and services for free to the self-proclaimed needy. Everyone else gets paid whether they work or not, teachers and other government employees, not to mention everyone selling goods. My plumber charged me $1000 to clear a sewer line last week, another $3000 was spent on a furnace and a whole variety of smaller service calls. Why can’t I legislate these services to be provided at no cost to me??? What kind of nonsense is this? There will be fewer landlords next year, fewer rental homes and more scarcity. What idiots. I can’t wait to start selling my rentals.

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
9 months ago

It’s almost like she could shoot somebody on Broadway, and her supporters would still support her.

Stop paying everything
Stop paying everything
9 months ago

How about a property tax strike? Not everyone that owns their home is a corporate blood-sucking kulak. Lots of working people own their homes and are suffering. How about we all just strike too and stop paying property taxes? And maybe all the small business owners that were forced to close should just stop paying their taxes, too.

Alocal
Alocal
9 months ago

As I say, that is never mentioned. Why ? Because the fat blood sucking leach that is Seattle city wants to keep all of its employees nicely fed on our tax money. Don’t pay and get hit by a predatory 8% fine on the entire years bill without any notice or appeal.

Janet Yellen
Janet Yellen
8 months ago
Reply to  Alocal

Yup. Those nice 6 figure salaries on a good ole fashioned 9 – 5.

JerSeattle
JerSeattle
9 months ago

I agree with the rent strike. If you own rental property you too have to suffer with those living in your property. If you can’t handle it, it might be time to sell out. Good luck getting a good price and good luck to the buyer. We need fair rents and if owners don’t like it, tough.

HTS3
HTS3
9 months ago
Reply to  JerSeattle

You probably really believe in and support small businesses, right? You know those mom and pop shops that support a family. Even the kids work there, pitching in. Me too. I love small business. By the way, the landlords in this city are also a business. Instead of selling coffee or clothing or pastries, they rent space. It seems a lot of people put “landlords” into a different class somehow. They seem to see them as these entities that provide nothing of value and they have deep pockets from sucking money from their renters. Hmmm. Most of these landlords look a lot like the people they rent to. They have families to feed, mortgages and taxes to pay. And upkeep on the buildings. Maybe you should know who you are talking about before you make them absorb everyone’s pain. Just a thought.

Glenn
Glenn
9 months ago
Reply to  JerSeattle

I own a few smaller buildings in the neighborhood. Only one of my forty one tenants did not pay April rent. He is now pn a payment plan. A couple of other residents let me know they may need some consideration if things don’t turn around soon with unemployment benefits, etc., and I intend to work with them to find solutions if needed state/federal relief is not forthcoming.
My point? Why would we encourage, or mandate as Sawant would like to do, non-payment of rent for people who have not suffered a covid-19 related job loss or significant loss of income? Are we trying to ensure impacted people are able to retain their housing or tear the system of private property ownership for profit down? I think those advocating rent strikes are trying to accomplish the latter. In my opinion, their success would deepen the economic damage and render our society much less livable in the long term.

Susi
Susi
9 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

Not all landlords are as accommodating as you.

You MUST understand that, right?

Also, just so you know, nobody has empathy for landlords except other landlords.

david
david
9 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

@susi You seem to imply that’s a good thing – the fact that “nobody has empathy” for an entire group of people in our community. That doesn’t sit right with me at all. We should all try to be empathetic towards each other, right?

HTS3
HTS3
8 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

Gee Susi, I guess I’m more of an optimist than you. I’d like to think that most people will judge someone by their character and how they act—not what they do for a living. I have empathy for most people. I know life is complicated and that I have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes. The people I’ve talked to, both renters and landlords, seem to be talking and working together on this. This is why I think Ms. Sawant’s approach to striking is precisely the wrong approach and will lead to further division.

Susi Schmusi
Susi Schmusi
8 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

I’d like to just go on the record and say that I am not a landlord and I have empathy for landlords right now. So does that mean @susi evaporates in a cloud of Failed Argument Smoke?

Darling78
Darling78
9 months ago

Many landlords suck and are abusive sociopaths!

HTS3
HTS3
8 months ago
Reply to  Darling78

Hmmm. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that the percentage of landlords who suck and are abusive sociopaths is likely to be very similar to those found in the general population. I’m not sure there’s any genetic marker that would cluster sociopaths and landlords. Not sure. Perhaps you could be on to something. Are you a profiler for the FBI?

Hey! You got virtue on my signal. And you got signal on my virtue!
Hey! You got virtue on my signal. And you got signal on my virtue!
8 months ago
Reply to  HTS3

Darling78 got a big ol’ dopamine bounce from posting that.

JerryLangford
9 months ago

Many tenants suck and are abusive to the units they rent

Ms.Trolly
Ms.Trolly
9 months ago
Reply to  JerryLangford

Exactly. Land lords treat their tenants as dispensable objects. anyone can replace them.

sociopathic tendencies

HTS3
HTS3
8 months ago
Reply to  JerryLangford

(Hey JerryLanfgord, I like what you’re doing here. I’m not sure Ms. Trolly caught your move.)

Eattingshorts
Eattingshorts
9 months ago

In the state of WA, those that have been laid off or had hours reduced resulting from COVID-19 and make $62k or less yearly, will be getting the state unemployment along with the federal $600/week. If you make less than $62k annually, the state and federal unemployment will equal over 100% of your regular income/salary. That was the point- to keep things afloat. What do all people think we are suppose to be doing with unemployment that equals more than our regular pay?? I’m pretty sure the state and federal government were thinking we would likely still be able to make our bills and rent since we will be making more than usual.

I’ve had friends quit temporary jobs during all of this because they make more on the current unemployment. So, really hoping they continue to pay their rental obligations so we don’t make this a bigger shit show than it already is.

MarciaX
MarciaX
8 months ago
Reply to  Eattingshorts

Your friends should be aware that if you quit a job without good cause, you won’t get unemployment. And Washington state in particular is really strict about what constitutes “good cause.” Not even nonpayment of wages qualifies all by itself, as I discovered first-hand some years ago.

Too legit to quit
Too legit to quit
8 months ago
Reply to  MarciaX

Spot on MarciaX. If I could have quit my sh!tshow of a job and gotten unemployment, I would have done so long ago. That’s one of the most basic aspects to unemployment benefits – you don’t get it if you quit! Makes me honestly question the validity of Eatingshorts post, tbh

Eattingshorts
Eattingshorts
8 months ago
Reply to  Eattingshorts

Question all you’d like, Too Legit To Quit! The current unemployment situation is unusual. If you make under $62k and were (as stated in original post) laid off or had reduced hours from Covid-19, you will be receiving over 100% of your pay. It’s not a secret or some conspiracy. Look to any unemployment website or calculator. So, if you’ve accepted a temp job, bc you were laid off from your original job (pre- corona), then you can quit that job and still claim unemployment on your original job. The requirements to apply to jobs to accept unemployment no longer stands. Now, if you decide to just up and quit a job, that’s a different story…unless it’s because you don’t have childcare due to Covid-19 or because you had Covid-19 or several other factors related to Covid-19. Long story short, it’s not the same unemployment you speak of years past. Look it up. And, trust me, bc I’m gettin the unemployment…