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My letter to Cornell & Associates Property Management supporting tenants organizing during COVID 19

Saturday April 25, 2020

Cornell & Associates Co-Presidents J. Blake Cornell and Bart Flora

Cc: Ben Lomond Building Manager, Adam Landry

As an elected representative of Seattle’s working people and as the District 3 Councilmember, I’m reaching out to express solidarity and support for the tenants of the Ben Lomond building, which is one of the 75 residential properties you manage on Capitol Hill, and among the 5,500 apartments you manage in the Seattle area. 

The Ben Lomond tenants are urging rent relief for victims of the Coronavirus pandemic, and have communicated to you a set of reasonable demands. In their own words: 

“In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, several of us have lost our jobs, and therefore our incomes, due to the pandemic. Some of us can no longer afford rent. Others have reduced hours and can’t afford their entire rent. We want to make sure everyone in the building is safe during this time. In the spirit of solidarity, we have formed a tenants’ collective so we may represent our united interests. 

“As a collective, we are calling on you to immediately:

● Suspend and cancel rent and utility payments for those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, effective now until at least three months after the stay-at-home order has been lifted. 

● Offer a 50% reduction in rent and suspension of utility payments for those whose working hours have been reduced by 50% or more due to the pandemic.” 

Working people and renters across the country, including in Washington State and Seattle, are reeling from the impact of this crisis. Over 26 million people have filed for unemployment in the last five weeks, and a third of renters nationwide were unable to pay full rent on April 1st. Dismal economic forecasts mean the situation will almost certainly get worse in the coming months, even if the temporary eviction moratorium, rent freeze (no increases in rent), and recent government stimulus checks will have some mitigating effect in the short term.

When Adam Ziemkowski, a community organizer in my Council office, met and spoke via Zoom with more than a dozen Ben Lomond neighbors April 20th, he was immediately struck by the sense of community among them in the midst of this pandemic. They had come together, and based on the genuine needs in the building, developed clear demands to address the crisis facing their community. Thirty seven neighbors in a 40-apartment building having signed on to the demands. The tenants then presented Cornell & Associates these demands, along with a thorough explanation of the urgent need motivating them. 

Your response to the tenants’ communication was, unfortunately, inadequate and tone-deaf, failing to recognize the severity of the crisis facing the working people living in the buildings you manage and working people in general. Rather than meet and work out an agreement with the tenants who have lost jobs and income, you have instead chosen to tell them they should “request help from parents,” or “utilize funds from savings.”

Your letter fails to acknowledge the economic chasm between your company and the owners of the buildings you manage on the one hand, and the vast majority of your tenants on the other. 

Working people are not receiving the windfall of trillions of dollars that big banks, major corporations, and the wealthiest are getting from the Trump administration. The Ben Lomond tenants are cooks, servers, baristas, tech workers, healthcare workers, students, and artists. Many are in extreme difficulty from not having a paycheck, and are facing the prospect of being jobless or having reduced income for multiple months. Healthcare workers are serving our community with great risk to their own lives. 

You, on the other hand, are one of the biggest residential property management corporations in Seattle. In addition to the 5,000+ residential properties, you also manage 15 commercial properties in Seattle. You boast of always achieving “maximum income under constantly changing economic conditions, while increasing property value” for yourself and your property-owning clients. In other words, you promise to extract rents and maximize your profits and those of your wealthy clients, regardless of a pandemic that has caused your tenants’ economic situation to crater. You have written to your tenants that “we are all in this together,” but clearly, your actions demonstrate otherwise.

To their credit, Ben Lomond tenants continue to organize in their building. Along with the Puget Sound Tenants Union, they have begun searching for renters in other buildings managed by Cornell. This is the kind of organizing millions of renters and working-class homeowners across this country need to do if our communities are to survive this crisis.

I urge you to respond to your tenants by meeting their demands before May rent becomes due and the situation becomes even more severe. Given the presence you have on Capitol Hill, and in District 3 and the Greater Seattle area, we are soliciting input from community members to help you understand the situation renters and working people are facing.

If you have not reached agreement with your tenants by May 1, I insist you attend a future meeting of my Renters Rights Committee to discuss the challenges faced by your tenants due to the Covid19 crisis, while also giving Cornell & Associates the opportunity to demonstrate financial hardship such that it is not possible for you to meet your tenants’ demands. 

You have a real opportunity to do the right thing. I urge you to accept your tenants’ demands, and ensure they will not face eviction notices, loss of their home, or damage to their credit, as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. My Council office welcomes you to reach out for a conversation.

Unless the thousands of ordinary working-class people in my district, including your tenants, and millions more around the country, get organized and fight, big banks and corporations will carry out massive numbers of evictions and foreclosures, while companies like Cornell & Associates, Amazon, corporate developers, and wealthy property owners continue to profit. That is why, the Ben Lomond renter solidarity is so important and inspiring.

Sincerely,

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Kshama Sawant

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