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Moratorium on Wintertime evictions of Renters

On November 26th, 2019 my office received a letter from the Seattle Renters Commission (found here), advocating for the rapid passage of a moratorium on wintertime evictions. Below is my response to that letter.

Tuesday November 26, 2019

Dear members of the City of Seattle Renters’ Commission, 

In the context of a 4-year homelessness state of emergency that continues to escalate in its severity and cost in human lives, I strongly agree with your recent letter advocating for a moratorium on evictions of renters during the winter, and for opening up all shelters now, so that unsheltered neighbors can be brought indoors away from the harsh winter weather. I will be consulting urgently with City Council Central Staff and with other Councilmembers to ensure that such action is taken as soon as possible.

As you correctly point out in your letter, 191 people have died on the street only in the last year – a number approaching the 194 unsheltered who lost their lives in 2018, which itself was a 15 percent increase over 2017. This, in one of the wealthiest cities in the country.

Fifteen percent of those interviewed as part of last year’s Point in Time count survey listed eviction as a direct cause of their homelessness. With over half of Seattle’s renters facing rents greater than 30 percent of their income, and rents continuing to rise, tens of thousands of us are just one missed paycheck or late rent payment away from losing our home. 

Additionally, we’ve seen through sources like the 2018 Seattle Women’s Commission report how disproportionately evictions in the city target women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color. Such injustice demands bold, immediate action. 

Our movements have begun to make important gains. We’ve won landmark renters’ rights, such as the move-in fee cap and payment plan and the law against rent increases in homes with outstanding housing code violations. Led by Be:Seattle and the Tenants’ Union, my office has helped co-host tenant rights boot camps throughout the city. 

Through the People’s Budget movement and ordinary people getting organized last year, we won the first-ever City funds for right to counsel for tenants in eviction actions. As reported by the Housing Justice Project, even this modest funding has resulted in a dramatic 431 percent increase in preservation of tenancies this year compared to last year, in combination with progressive gains won in the state legislature. In the People’s Budget movement this autumn, we’ve just won the funds for two such City-funded attorneys for renters facing eviction. 

Most importantly, we have real momentum – which we need to build on in the coming year – to win a strong, citywide rent control policy, free of corporate loopholes. The Renters’ Commission played a crucial role with your resolution urging the lifting of the state ban against rent control, and the for the City Council to pass a strong rent control policy. 

After mass movements in New York won historic victories this summer on rent control, Seattle’s voters have sent a powerful message in the City Council elections earlier this month, repudiating the big business and Chamber of Commerce attempt to buy the elections, and setting a mandate to win not only rent control, but also a massive expansion in social housing funded by taxing large corporations. 

I urge the Commission to stay in touch with my office, and look forward to working alongside you to make sure we set humane policies to last through the winter, and to continue building our movement in 2020.

Solidarity, 

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Kshama Sawant. 

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