Will raise $300M/year from biggest corporations, fund social housing, services, Green New Deal
Councilmember Tammy J. Morales (District 2 – South Seattle and the C/ID) and Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), backed by community supporters, today unveiled the text of draft legislation (a revenue ordinance and a funding plan) to tax Amazon and other big businesses in Seattle to fund a massive expansion of affordable housing and services.
Under the legislation sponsored by the two councilmembers, the top corporations in Seattle, as measured by the size of their payroll, would pay an excise tax of 0.7 percent on their payrolls to fund new affordable housing and conversion of existing buildings to meet Green New Deal standards.
The 800 biggest companies in Seattle – those with payrolls in excess of $7 million per year – would pay the tax; the remaining firms would pay no tax under the proposal. Non-profit organizations, public employers, and grocery stores also would be exempt, regardless of size.
The legislation would enable the city to:
● Build up to 8,000 new affordable, publicly owned or controlled homes over the next 10 years; and,
● Upgrade energy efficiency in tens of thousands of existing homes in the city to meet Green New Deal standards.
“On behalf of our movement, I’m excited to put forward this bold, transformative proposal along with Councilmember Morales,” Sawant said. “We know that big business, the wealthy, and the political establishment will staunchly oppose this, and that we will need a powerful movement. If we win, this will not only help make our city affordable to working people, it will set a historical marker for cities around the nation,” Sawant declared.
Councilmember Morales said, “Like so many progressives in Seattle, I find myself deeply frustrated with our communities being hollowed out by displacement; frustrated with our persistent lack of housing for families in the Chinatown-International District or Rainier Beach where the average household income is under $25,000. We need progressive revenue to fund our growing need for infrastructure and community services.”
“I believe that this bill will give us a chance to fund our community priorities: Inclusivity — housing that can stop displacement; tax relief — turning away from regressive taxes like property and sales tax where the most vulnerable pay the most; and repairing the harm — bringing the people who are most impacted to the table, ensuring racial equity is at the center of this conversation,” Morales added.
“While Kshama and I are still working on some aspects of this legislation, we share common principles about the outcomes we seek: We must find a more equitable way to fund public services, and we must ensure that housing is a human right,” she said.
Sawant added, “Today, we have an unprecedented homelessness crisis. Tens of thousands of people are at risk of being pushed out of Seattle by soaring housing costs. They are nurses, bus drivers, restaurant workers, baristas, mechanics, construction workers, teachers, and more. These are the people who make our city run. Communities of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community are especially feeling the stress of housing displacement. Seattle’s Central District, the hub of the African American community a generation ago, is today less than 20% Black. Even tech workers are feeling the vice grip of a private housing market that has failed working people, with average rents in Seattle up 69% since 2010, far beyond the rate of inflation and more than double the national average. Today 42% of Seattle renters are officially rent burdened, and one-quarter of all homeowners – especially elders living on fixed incomes and struggling with rising property taxes – are also at risk of being pushed out.
“Companies here have reaped billions because Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the nation. It’s time for Amazon and other major corporations to pay their fair share,” Sawant said.
The $300 million tax proposal is similar in size to the 2018 voter-approved measure in San Francisco that taxed big businesses to fund housing and services.
“Today I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Councilmember Sawant to co-sponsor this legislation,” Morales said. “It’s not a new idea, but it is one that’s long overdue.”
“Together with our colleagues we’re going to reject a scarcity mentality that asks little of the wealthy while withholding resources from those who need it most,” Morales said.
Under the Sawant and Morales legislation, 75 percent, or $225 million annually, would be spent on housing and social services. The housing would be built under community workforce agreements, with requirements for apprenticeship opportunities, priority for local workers to be hired, and prevailing wage rates. The homes would be publicly owned or controlled, and would be built to energy efficiency standards consistent with the goals identified in Seattle’s Green New Deal.
The investments will allow Seattle to build an additional 800 new affordable rental homes on average a year, on top of the average of 300 new rental homes per year that are funded through the Seattle Housing Levy.
The remaining 25% of the funding, or $75 million annually, would be spent on weatherizing existing homes, investing in renewable energy systems like solar, and converting homes that use home heating oil or fracked natural gas to electricity.