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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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

To protect against ‘shockingly unconscionable’ rent increases, Sawant calls for COVID-19 rent freeze — UPDATE: Call for rent and mortgage moratorium

District 3 representative Kshama Sawant says she wants to build on the victory of her push for a ban on residential evictions during the COVID-19 crisis to protect Seattle renters and tenants across the state from “shockingly unconscionable” rent increases.

In a letter this week to Gov. Jay Inslee, Sawant calls for “a statewide rent freeze through the end of the year.”

“As vulnerable renters in Seattle and Washington state struggle to cope with the COVID19 pandemic, many are starting to receive notices for rent increases from their corporate landlords,” Sawant writes. “Constituents have reported this both to my office and to the Tenants Union of Washington State. This is shockingly unconscionable.”

Sawant says rents should remain frozen longer “if the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis continues in 2021.”

The full letter is below. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Housing seeks community feedback on ‘LGBTQ-affirming affordable senior housing project’ The Eldridge

(Image: Environmental Works)

You can help shape The Eldridge, an eight-story affordable housing project focused on LGBTQ+ elders on Broadway between Pike and Pine that will include at least 100 units at a mix of affordability levels rising above the preserved facade of an auto row-era Seattle landmark.

Affordable housing developer Capitol Hill Housing and Capitol Hill architectural firm Environmental Works are collecting community feedback as they prepare for the start of the city’s design review process set to begin later this year:

Capitol Hill Housing’s LGBTQ-Affirming Affordable Senior Housing Project at 1515-1519 Broadway has been awarded funding by the Seattle Office of Housing, King County, and the Washington State Housing Trust Fund. The project team is preparing to submit the initial design package to the city for the Early Design Guidance process and is currently seeking feedback from community members on the project. A public update meeting was held in August 2019 and the project team plans to hold an additional public meeting in mid-2020 to obtain feedback on the building design and programming. Community members are encouraged to submit comments about the project in the meantime by visiting the project webpage or contacting the project team at 1515Broadway@capitolhillhousing.org (note: any information collected may be made public).

Last August, CHS reported on early plans for the project being envisioned as one of Seattle’s first “community preference” developments — a new program that encourages developers receiving city money to offer a portion of their affordable units to communities with ties to the neighborhood, particularly those with a high risk of displacement.”

Seattle Council approves Sawant’s winter evictions ban — but includes exemption for ‘small’ landlords

Kshama Sawant’s legislation to ban winter evictions in Seattle was approved by the City Council Monday but not before a few holes were poked in the socialist council member’s attempt to restrict landlords from evicting tenants during winter months.

The 7-0 vote adds a new restriction to Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, a roster of “16 just causes” Seattle landlords are allowed to use to end month-by-month rental agreements. Seattle will now restrict evictions during the period from December 1st to March 1st. The rules could be in place for a short period if Mayor Jenny Durkan backs off veto threats. Continue reading

Sawant targets ‘preemption’ in pushback on plan for King County big business tax

“Learn more about the Tax Amazon Movement,” front and center on Sawant’s City Council page

When it comes to taxing “big business,” Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant is hoping to preempt “preemption.”

The socialist representative for Central Seattle is holding a news conference Friday night in City Hall with “union members, renters rights activists, socialists, rank-and-file Democratic party members, and faith leaders” to “speak out against the threat of a statewide ban on big business taxes in Seattle, known as ‘preemption.'” Continue reading

Amid wave of development around Capitol Hill Station, 115-year-old Broadway building wins a landmark reprieve

A 1905-built Broadway building home to neighborhood restaurants and 14 upstairs apartment units might just have won a reprieve that will keep it standing amid a wave of housing and retail redevelopment around Capitol Hill Station.

The city’s landmarks board voted to extend protections Wednesday to the Capitol Crest building, the auto row-era home to Annapurna and Albacha restaurants, the Ace Barber Shop, as well as the handful of apartment units planned to be demolished to make way for a planned mixed-use project from Champion Development. Continue reading

Proposal would allow a $121M King County tax on big businesses to pay for housing, homelessness

Sawant made the Tax Amazon movement the centerpiece of her inauguration and start of a third term. A state proposal would open the door to a tax on “big business” at the county level.

As the rumble has started again for a tax on large employers in Seattle, Capitol Hill’s State Representative in Olympia has proposed a bill that could take the push for revenue to support housing and homelessness services to a new level.

Rep. Nicole Macri is co-sponsoring a bill that would allow King County “to impose an excise tax on business.”

The state proposal would actually open up the option to any county with a population over 2 million — right now, that would be King County.

“The thing I am interested in is something that will allow for more of a regional approach on addressing homelessness, housing and behavioral health needs than what the current authority allows,” Macri told Crosscut about the proposed legislation.

Fellow 43rd District Rep. Frank Chopp is also a co-sponsor.

The Seattle Times reports that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine support the bill.

Durkan and Constantine said the tax could raise $121 million per year “for housing, homelessness, public safety, and behavioral health services across the region.” Continue reading

More than 1,300 apply for 110 affordable apartments above Capitol Hill Station

A sample floor plan of a two-bedroom unit at Station House

CHS reported on the January 7th opening of the application process for the 110 affordable apartment units slated to open later this year in Station House, the development from Capitol Hill Housing part of set of brand new buildings rising above the Capitol Hill Station light rail facility.

Just how big was demand for the six-story building’s affordable units? Capitol Hill Housing tells CHS that within 10 minutes, 300 respondents had filled out the form expressing interest in the application process — and more than 1,300 registered through the mid-January deadline. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Housing planning mass timber apartment building on E Union

An early concept for the planned mass timber project (Image: Atelier Jones)

For years, prime real estate neighboring the brick Helen V apartment building on Union has hosted a surface parking lot used by a few local residents and Capitol Hill Housing vehicles.

On its face, a new eight-story, affordable project set to rise there doesn’t seem much different than the many sprouting on Capitol Hill but there is one major difference. The new building will have a mass timber structural system, which Atelier Jones principal architect Susan Jones says allows for more density. She said that the shift to timber away from concrete or steel made a 114-unit goal for the affordable project possible. Standard construction would have produced only 88.

Mass timber buildings like these are a trend in the Pacific Northwest, Jones says. Continue reading