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Seattle City Council adds more COVID-19 renter protections as ‘Amazon Tax’ for relief and affordable housing remains stalled

Seattle has added two new protections for renters facing the economic challenges of the COVID-19 crisis but City Hall wasn’t celebrating Monday as the Seattle City Council approved a bill that gives tenants who fall behind on rent during the crisis the right to catch up on an installment plan.

The second yes vote on a bill co-sponsored by council member Kshama Sawant approved a new rule prohibiting landlords from turning down a tenant because they were evicted for failure to pay rent during the crisis. Sawant marked the victory but also had a lot to say about her stymied “Amazon Tax.”

“Today’s vote is an important victory for renters throughout our city and I am proud to have sponsored the legislation with Councilmember (Tammy) Morales,” Sawant said in an announcement about about the new protections. “It builds on other tenant organizing victories, most recently the winter eviction moratorium that our movement won earlier this year. But we also know corporate landlords will continue to try to find ways to exploit and abuse renters. That’s why it’s vital that we continue building the movement to win the complete suspension – without consequences – of rent, mortgage, and utility payments, and continue organizing renters to fight evictions.”

Council members voted 8 to 1 to block consideration of evictions during and six months after the COVID-19 restrictions. The second bill approved Monday will allow tenants to fall behind on rent to establish payment plans to catch up.

Despite the victories, Sawant used Monday’s full council meeting to call out. the body for its lack of action and stalling the so-called “Amazon Tax” on big businesses to pay for affordable housing. From SCCI:

But Sawant went into full attack mode, calling last week’s decision a “betrayal,” accusing Herbold, Gonzalez and Mosqueda of aligning with “big business” and cutting a back-room deal, and asserting to be false their claims to have made the decision based upon adherence to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Governor’s proclamation, and in the interests of public health. She repeated the allegations in a press release this afternoon, and staying true to form she pitted “big business” against “working people.” Before this afternoon’s Council meeting Sawant and the “Tax Amazon” campaign organized a “car caravan” protest rally circling an empty City Hall, and several campaign volunteers took turns during the public comment session rebuking the council members for the decision to suspend the deliberations.

“This action is disguised as some sort of responsible governance, but in reality, it is the Democratic establishment at the City and State levels colluding with big business in an attempt to undercut the momentum of the Amazon Tax movement,” the statement from the Sawant office reads. “In the context of the increasingly desperate situation facing so many working people in Seattle, this is an absolutely irresponsible and reckless maneuver on the part of politicians claiming to be progressive.”

Meanwhile, Sawant and the Tax Amazon group pushing for the new tax are hoping to gather enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot even if the council does not act. This week, the group was joined by the National Lawyers Guild in a call for Seattle and Washington officials to act to allow the initiative signature gathering process to move online during the COVID-19 crisis.

Organizers must procure “ten percent (10%) of the total votes cast for mayor at the last Mayoral election” to put the measure on the ballot for a November vote

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15 thoughts on “Seattle City Council adds more COVID-19 renter protections as ‘Amazon Tax’ for relief and affordable housing remains stalled

  1. On we go making it ever more unpleasant to own rental property in Seattle. And yet still our property tax is due at the end of May with a predatory fine if it’s paid even one day late…

  2. I have only one rental in my house. I will now keep it unoccupied because the laws in Seattle are making it too risky. Thanks City Counsil for making housing less available.

    • It’s your house, so you should just live in it yourself.

      There are plenty of apartment buildings to keep taking advantage of vulnerable tenants, mom and pop landlords should get out of the business while people are still being civil. If I had to guess, the time of the small landlord is coming to a close as Capitalism moves ever closer to complete implosion.

      The “state” had to step in during Feudalism to control the vast network of private lords and serfs during the 4th -15th centuries throughout Europe, and it was replaced by the period of “Absolute Monarchy”. That utter failure lasted about 200 years and then Capitaliism was born out of the ashes of the English civil war.

      Currently, the Fed is backing everything financially during this crisis…don’t you think if they wanted to subsidize small landlords, they would have?? Considering the vast wealth and privilege of the elites, It seems they just see small property ownership as a failed investment. I’m not saying this result is preferable to small landlords, but I am saying that material conditions are arising (analogous to post Civil-war England) such that the current economic system (which is failing even the small landowners) could have enough resistance from the general public to cause a permanent change for the better. To the next step in our social evolution!

    • You must understand, the majority of this Council does not support the concept of owning investment real estate for profit. They believe housing is a human right, and as such, profitmaking has no place in housing. They would like to see most privately owned investment properties sold to non-profits or affordable housing entities supported by city and federal funding. And they are busily undermining investment property values using onerous regulations (rent waivers, rent freezes, no right to evict, mandatory payment plans) so those entities can acquire distressed properties at a discount. Read Rep. Omars federal legislation co-sponsored by Pramila Jayapal and supported by Councilmember Mosqueda, among others, which proposes rent waivers (no rent). It is a recipe for crushing the privately owned real estate investment market. Sawant likes it to, except the part allowing federal compensation to landlords whose tenants are no longer required to pay rent. She thinks landlords should receive no support and condemned that aspect of the legislation. But don’t get too excited about the compensation. The terms for getting it include mandatory five year rent freezes, restrictions on sale, etc. Again, all attempts to drive down value and force investment properties into non-profit and government hands.

      • I used to own *ONE* rental unit, a condo that I lived in until I bought my house. I rented it out for 10 years. When I finally decided to sell it (because I was tired of dealing with the helpless stupidity of some of those renters), my then-current tenant’s biggest gripe was she’d never find a similar unit to rent at the same price, because *I was charging her $400/mo less than then-current market value*. Yes, she was, in effect complaining that she hadn’t been paying market-rate rent.
        All I charged her was enough to break-even and cover the expenses. I had no desire to “profit” from it. It was a savings account for me, for retuirement. That’s it.
        >>I’m quite sure I wasn’t the ONLY landlord in Seattle who charged below-market rent. I’m sure of it. I’m sure many small property owners look at their one or 2 rental units as their retirement account.<<

        So yeah– keep torturing small landlords with one or two rental units. Just keep it up. You'll force them out, and the ones who buy their property will jack it up to market rate. "Be careful what you wish for…."

  3. It is beyond ironic, that policies meant to improve housing and increase tax revenue from large companies, accomplishes the exact opposite.
    1. Requiring landlords to choose the first applicant, prevent them from being able to reasonably evict people reduces the number of rental units in the city increasing the cost of rent and homelessness. Alternatively we could help people directly by providing housing assistance and assisting those who experience racial or other prejudice instead strict and hard to enforce regulations.
    2. The “Amazon Tax” is not a big business tax. It is the stupidest tax ever thought of. First of all, it taxes companies per employee. So they will hire less employees. Second of all it only applies to Seattle, so companies will simply move to the periphery. It targets a small minority of businesses instead of smart tax that applies to all but the big more. Finally, it’s based on revenue not profit. So retailers and restaurants and any other low margin business gets screwed while Amazon pays a pittance.
    If you really wanted to stick it to the man, you’d upzone all those white neighborhoods instead of the ghetto.

  4. So let me get this straight. If I were a landlord and a prospective tenant showed up who just walked out on a lease owing money, I am supposed to ignore that and consider myself safe from the same behavior? Be assured that I would not rent to this individual and would easily come up with a reason to make this decision that passes muster.

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