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Sawant Responds to “Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom” Study

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Human Services, Equitable Development and Renters Rights, issued this statement today in response to the study titled “Who Is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom,” from The Institute for Policy Studies’ Inequality.org Project

The study looks at the luxury real estate boom in Seattle, specifically condominiums and their ownership and occupancy trends. 

The report highlights why we need to tax super-wealthy corporations like Amazon to build publicly-owned, affordable housing for ordinary working people, and strong rent control policies to prevent gouging, Councilmember Sawant said. 

“I was appalled – but not surprised – to learn in the IPS report “Who Is Buying Seattle?” that global capital firms and super-wealthy individuals are snapping up multi-million dollar homes in Seattle, not to live here, but to use the property as ‘wealth storage units.’ These include 99 Union, cited in the IPS study, where half of the condos are owned by corporations or trusts, apparently as investments and tax shelters; the Koda Condominium Tower, which is contributing to the gentrification that is pushing seniors and local small businesses out of the Chinatown/International District; and Spire, a swanky downtown tower still under construction, which features private dining areas, a 41st floor dog run, and an elevator for cars, and is already selling condos for up to $5 million,” Councilmember Sawant said.

Councilmember Sawant called attention to a guest editorial in The Stranger by Logan Swan, a union ironworker who helped build the Spire and other luxury housing, hotels, and offices in Belltown, Capitol Hill, Fremont, and the Denny Triangle. Swan noted in his piece that “despite these contributions, I can’t call Seattle my home. I can no longer afford to live here.” He said he lives in Des Moines, and his co-workers live even further away, in Tacoma, Everett, and beyond.

Councilmember Sawant added: “It’s outrageous that developers are making millions in profits selling what the report’s main author calls “swanktuaries,” while thousands of Seattleites are living in tents, RVs, and shelters, tens of thousands more are just a missed paycheck away from being out on the street, and tens of thousands – like Logan Swan and his fellow construction workers – have already been economically evicted from the city.”

As the IPS study notes, “More housing, built exclusively for people in the richest 1 percent of income and wealth holders, has accelerated, not reversed the city’s unaffordability problem and persistent racial divide.”

“We have a housing crisis and as the report amply shows, the private market is failing working people and our communities,” Councilmember Sawant said. “While there is no shortage of luxury units being built, King County estimates that to meet immediate needs for working people and families, we need 156,000 new affordable homes today. Rents have gone up more than 3 and a half times the rate of inflation this decade, and today an average Seattle apartment rents for $2,167/month, meaning that a householdneeds an income of more than $85,000 per year to afford a typical apartment and not be rent-burdened. That is not affordable for teachers, restaurant and hotel workers, machinists, bus and rideshare drivers, nurses, caregivers, construction workers, truck drivers, and other workers who make this city run.”

Soaring rents, along with the demolition of affordable housing, in many instances, for luxury units, have contributed to Washington state losing 77,000 affordable rentals between 2012 and 2017, according to a recent University of Washington study

“This is exactly why we need to rent control and a big business tax to fund a massive investment in social housing – publicly owned and controlled, and built with union labor. My Council office will immediately move forward on the recommendations of the IPS study. My office will be introducing legislation to require luxury real estate purchasers to disclose true ownership as a part of the property registration requirements. And I call on the State Legislature to allow municipalities the authority to tax absentee buyers and tax vacant residential properties,” Sawant concluded.

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