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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Capitol Hill ‘comfort station’ part of Seattle scramble to help homeless people get through COVID-19 crisis

UPDATE: The city has provided this new map with updated information

The City of Seattle has deployed a Capitol Hill “comfort station” at Cal Anderson Park as part of efforts to increase access to sanitation for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, another dangerous health crisis has emerged here with a disturbing increase in hepatitis cases in the city.

While modeling shows that Washington may have passed the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, people who are unsheltered are feeling the worst of its effects as minimal access to clean running water and restrooms mean the virus can spread rapidly among this vulnerable population.

This was the tense topic of discussion at a Wednesday meeting of a Seattle City Council committee as officials were confronted with local activists calling on them to reopen public spaces and staff them with the National Guard so they will be available to people who are experiencing homelessness.

At the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square, the club’s executive director Colleen Echohawk told the panel that they had to limit bathrooms to four people at a time to comply with social distancing guidelines. One woman, who Echohawk said was menstruating, begged her to use the bathroom.

“I could tell you many, many stories of just desperate need for bathrooms and showers,” Echohawk said. Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, added, “What we are seeing unfold in our city is a truly shocking experience.” Continue reading

Sawant loses fight but ‘Tax Amazon’ COVID-19 relief and housing proposal begins path through Seattle City Hall

With COVID-19 set to tear up the city’s budget, District 3 Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has turned again to a familiar target: Amazon and the biggest two percent of businesses. But Monday, her council counterparts opted to send a proposal for a new tax on Seattle’s largest companies to provide emergency relief from the pandemic down a legislative pathway not controlled by the Socialist Alternative representative for Capitol Hill’s District 3.

More than 5,400 people signed a petition to the council spearheaded by Sawant to enact the new tax proposed last month with South Seattle rep Tammy Morales. Another over 1,100 people emailed council members calling on them to send the legislation to Sawant’s Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee.

Monday, the suite of three bills was sent unanimously to the Select Budget Committee, chaired by council member Teresa Mosqueda, who said she would work to get the legislation a robust discussion with urgency.

Sawant levied criticisms against council member Lisa Herbold and council president Lorena González for their votes to repeal her head tax on Amazon in 2018.

Monday, several council members, including Herbold, pushed back against Sawant for promoting the idea of a divided council during an emergency.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to really promote that divisive approach to how the council does its business,” Herbold said. “I think this council acts in a way that’s fair and respectful of one another.”

Council member Debora Juarez said “this type of politics in the midst of a lethal pandemic, to me, is unacceptable and a waste of time.” Continue reading

Washington schools to remain closed for rest of school year

Capitol Hill’s Stevens Elementary’s campus is taped off and closed (Image: CHS)

Washington school campuses will remain closed through the rest of the school year as the state’s districts do what they can to ramp up distance learning to finish the academic year.

“We simply can’t take the chance of reopening onsite instruction in this school year,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday.

“Your educators will continue teaching but it will look different than what you are used to,” Inslee told students Monday, asking young people to also do their part to help.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal foreshadowed the move last week when he said that K-12 school buildings throughout Washington could remain closed for the rest of the year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know if we’re coming back to school this year and I want to be honest about that, Reykdal said. “I think you should expect to be in this distance learning model for quite a long time.”

Monday, he described the challenges and costs of cleaning a campus if students of instructors get sick and echoed Inslee’s concerns about continuing to try to slow the pandemic.

The decision “does call into question this fall,” Reykdal said, adding that state officials have begun planning how to approach the next school year.

Washington now joins more than a dozen states in closing its school campuses for the year, Reykdal said.

UPDATE: Here is Reykdal’s announcement of the closure: Continue reading

With cuts beginning, officials sorting out COVID-19 budget damage from Seattle City Hall to Olympia

A view of Seattle during the COVID-19 crisis

Doesn’t look so bad from up here (Image: CHS)

As COVID-19 rages on both locally and nationally, one big question that looms over governments at all levels is what this means for budgets and the services they fund.

With weakening revenue forecasts and increasing unexpected expenditures, Seattle and the state are scrambling to rejigger budget estimates as they constantly evolve in a rapidly changing situation as a virus with over 7,500 cases as of Saturday rages on in Washington.

Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s Finance and Housing Committee, has been holding weekly check-ins with the City Budget Office to assess the impact this could have.

The 40% of the general fund made up by sales and business and occupation taxes is going to get hit pretty hard with less activity in the city, CBO director Ben Noble said. The B&O tax is paid quarterly and the sales tax comes on a six-week lag, meaning it can take time to fully understand the shortfalls that could result from such a devastating pandemic.

“We’re kind of blind to the impact in the moment and we don’t know how long this is gonna last,” Noble said. “There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty.”

The federal relief bill might give the city some “flexible money,” according to Noble, but not much. Continue reading

To blunt COVID-19 crisis, Seattle leaders make call to cancel rent, house payments

It’s the end of the month and Capitol Hill and Central District renters know the check is due. For homeowners, it is time to pay the lenders.

With that in mind, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday calling on Gov. Jay Inslee and the federal government to impose an immediate moratorium on rent and mortgage payments as workers are laid off amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 133,000 Washingtonians filed for unemployment benefits from March 15-21, up from just over 14,000 the week before, according to the Employment Security Department, as the state’s moves to blunt the spread of the novel coronavirus virus got more and more restrictive.

King County residents accounted for 37,296 of the jobless claims that week. More than 41,000 were in the accommodation and food services industry.

“All of us as a council is eager to make sure that we’re protecting our neighbors,” council member Tammy Morales said, adding she’s been getting hundreds of emails from worried constituents. Morales, the sponsor of the resolution, also said this effort is in tandem with legislators across the country, from San Francisco to Boston, who are working on similar measures to push federal lawmakers to act.

Last week, CHS reported on District 3’s Kshama Sawant calling for a COVID-19 rent freeze to combat “shockingly unconscionable” rent increases. Monday, she said a petition in support of the movement had over 6,300 signatures calling on Inslee to immediately suspend rent payments.

“Elected officials have a moral and political duty to ensure the burden of this serious crisis does not land on the same working people and marginalized communities who are already struggling under ‘normal’ periods of capitalism,” Sawant wrote in a letter to Inslee on Thursday. “It would be criminal to allow landlords to carry out rent increases during this pandemic, leading to further evictions and putting public welfare and health at grave risk.”

Monday, the resolution passed with Sawant unable to participate in the initial vote thanks to a momentary technological blip. The council held its session via teleconference, joining thousands of workers across the region under COVID-19 “work from home” restrictions. The District 3 representative said later that a technical difficulty prevented her from voting and that she was able to add her support. Continue reading

Capitol Hill community clinic Country Doctor doing its part to fight COVID-19 — on the phone

Staff members greeting patients and checking for symptoms outside the door of Country Doctor on 19th Ave E (Image: Country Doctor)

Last Monday meant all hands on deck for Country Doctor Community Health Centers (CDCHC).

Gov. Jay Inslee had just taken his most drastic measures yet to stem the flow of the novel coronavirus in Washington, ordering the closure of all restaurants and bars. It was yet another step for the state in effectively shutting down personal interaction.

CDCHC, which has two main locations at 19th and Republican as well as 21st and Yesler Way on top of other partnerships, serves about 20,000 people, according to executive director Raleigh Watts. But they had to figure out how to continue to serve their patients while keeping with tight social distancing guidelines.

“Our main goal is that our patients are safe and one of the things that would put patients at great risk is if they came to the clinic while they were sick and they came to the clinic and somebody else was sick,” Watts told CHS Thursday. “So we’re really working hard to keep our patients home.

The solution? Telemedicine.

More than 80% of CDCHC’s visits are now being conducted over the phone, with the remaining space in the clinics reserved for patients that need care that must be done in-person. While they shifted a bit to phone visits about two weeks ago, Inslee’s order pushed them all in.

Part of this was made possible just this week as the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services lifted some rules on telehealth services so that places like Country Doctor can get reimbursed for telephone contacts. About 40% of the clinic’s patients are on Medicaid, according to Watts, while the rest are either on private insurance or uninsured.

Watts thinks other health care organizations could learn to use their telemedicine approach they’re utilizing to avoid mixing people with symptoms for COVID-19 and people without symptoms. Continue reading

At Capitol Hill’s Seattle Central, a struggle to keep up with the outbreak’s changes to education

(Image: Seattle Central)

The last week has been a whirlwind at Seattle Central College. It began with the suspension of in-person classes starting Monday through March 25, the end of winter quarter, a move the school saw as the least harmful option that could be quickly applied. And by the end of the week, Gov. Jay Inslee had extended that restriction for all Washington colleges and universities for another month, through April 24, to blunt the spread of the novel coronavirus, marking a monumental shift to online-only learning for the first few weeks of classes next quarter.

Smack dab in the middle of all this, the Capitol Hill school also had a student receive a presumptive positive test result for the coronavirus that, as of Friday, had 568 confirmed cases and killed 37 people across Washington, according to the state Department of Health.

“Like the UW and other major universities and colleges, we have to balance the potential risks of infection against the disruption of courses, tests, and the services that our students need to succeed in their studies.” SCC spokesperson Roberto Bonaccorso told CHS. “It is a moving target.”

Now 16,000 students are mostly missing from the middle of Capitol Hill.

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Even with Washington’s presidential primary moved up, virtual Biden-Sanders Election Night tie might signal end game

An Election Day voter casts a ballot at the county drop box on Broadway

Moving Washington’s primary up to March was meant to give it more importance in the national race to pick a Democratic candidate. It appears to have come just as the race has ended.

In the first results of the state’s March 10th Democratic primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Joe Biden appear to be in a neck and neck tie in Washington. On a night when Biden already claimed Michigan and Missouri and with forecasts predicting Biden to do better in late voting in Washington, the Sanders campaign appears to have hit a wall.

Elizabeth Warren was managing a third place finish here with just over 12% of the vote.

The Biden-Bernie battle extended to the streets of King County where results also showed the two remaining candidates neck and neck with around 33 points each.

King County turnout in Washington state’s by mail and dropoff only voting stood at just over 41% on Election Day. About 65% of the ballots were counted as of 8:30 PM. For latest updates, visit results.vote.wa.gov.

Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois primaries are next in upcoming weeks.

Despite momentum turning away from their boss across the country, Sanders staffers in Washington maintained optimism Tuesday as polls closed across the state at 8 PM.

Before results came in from the set of states voting Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight gave Biden a 99% chance of winning the nomination. This is just weeks after the forecast had Sanders or a brokered convention leading the way.

But that doesn’t mean efforts ceased to scoop up Washington’s 89 delegates, 31 of which are awarded on a statewide basis and the rest of which are based on congressional districts. Just from March 2 to Sunday, the state campaign made 517,797 calls, hit 40,732 doors, and completed 1,321 canvassing shifts, according to state field director Shaun Scott.

“Those numbers are the sign of a campaign that takes its grassroots mission very seriously,” Scott told CHS in a text message. “Lots of candidates have grand ambitions and well-crafted statements, but without a movement we cannot institute the change we need.”

Scott said the campaign’s goal was to build the “biggest grassroots organization ever” he thinks they’ve done that in Washington. Continue reading

Community organizer and sex worker advocate Lascelles joins challenge for Chopp’s seat in the 43rd

 Sherae Lascelles

(Image: Sherae for State)

Sherae Lascelles can trace their activism back to the third grade. A fellow student was sent to the hall after she “acted out of turn” in class. Lascelles talked to her on the way to the bathroom and she said she was hungry. So Lascelles pulled out some Red Vines and brought them to her.

This resulted in a confrontation with the teacher who was upset that Lascelles had brought the girl a snack.

“I learned quickly that I would have to advocate for myself at every turn to survive,” Lascelles tells CHS. “I didn’t even know why I felt like I had to do that, but I just didn’t understand the punishment and I didn’t understand how she was being treated and it didn’t make any sense so I put it upon myself to do something about it.” Continue reading