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Councilmember Sawant Calls on City Council to Endorse African-American Faith Leaders’ Demand for 1,000 New Affordable Homes, Funded by $500M/Year Amazon Tax, for Residents Displaced Due to Racist Gentrification

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, today publicly urged other city councilmembers to publicly endorse the call, led by African-American church leaders, to build 1,000 new affordable homes over three years for historic residents and those displaced from the Central District, funded by a progressive tax on big business that raises at least $500 million per year. These Central District homes would be in addition to building thousands of affordable social homes throughout the city.

Councilmember Sawant’s full letter to the other councilmembers is here.

“The Central District used to be more than 70 percent black in the 1970s; today, that figure is less than 18 percent,” Sawant noted in her letter to the other eight councilmembers. “The economic eviction of black households is a direct outcome. . .  of for-profit developers and big banks colluding with the city’s political establishment over the decades to systematically push black working-class people out of Seattle’s urban core. This racist gentrification has destroyed the very fabric of the community – forcing people out of their homes, away from their friends and neighbors, their churches, grocery stores, community clinics, parks, and schools.”

At last Thursday’s press conference conducted by Councilmember Sawant and the Black clergy, Rev. Carey Anderson, pastor of Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church, said, “Simply put, if Black Lives Matter, then affordable housing for Black families in the Central Area should matter. It was Martin Luther King who said ‘Life’s most important question is – what are you doing for others?’ We are simply asking if we really believe in not the rhetoric, not the slogans, but the fact that Black Lives Matter, then do what’s right, for what’s right.”

In her letter to the other councilmembers, Sawant said that “The City Council must do more than what’s acceptable to big business, acknowledge that the for-profit housing market has been one of the most violent, destructive weapons directed at working-class and poor people of color, and take concrete action.”

“I urge you to join me and our movement in publicly declaring your support for all of the African-American faith leaders’ demands, without reservation, including their demand for the city to enact progressive taxation to raise a minimum of $500 million/year to meet urgent human needs.”

A full copy of the African-American church leaders’ letter is here.

The letter calls on the City Council to “Implement a progressive tax to raise a minimum of $500 million per year” to fund:

  • 1,000 new affordable homes in the Central District, especially for historic residents and households displaced over the years by racist gentrification;
  • 5,000 new units of permanent supportive housing;
  • More Tiny House Villages to house 2,000 currently-unsheltered people;
  • Apprenticeship and training opportunities with a focus on youth of color; and,
  • $500 million in bonds for low-income housing construction.

The letter also calls on the City to end the cruel sweeps of homeless encampments; adopt an ordinance that my office will be introducing shortly to allow churches to increase density on church properties to build more low-income housing; and demilitarize the police department and strengthen public oversight.

Sawant noted that “The fact that the City Council is now moving forward together on a big business Amazon Tax is entirely due to the thousands who have been fighting for the Tax Amazon movement, including black and brown community members and leaders, and many of the faith leaders themselves. Big business is being forced to recognize the tremendous community support for the Amazon Tax. However, the Democrats’ legislation currently falls well short of what the community immediately needs, including what the African-American faith leaders have called for.”

The Sawant-Morales Amazon Tax legislation would:

  • tax big business at a rate to bring in $500 million/year, beginning immediately, to fund COVID relief, social housing, and the Green New Deal;
  • be a permanent tax, because the need for affordable housing and services is not going to magically disappear at some arbitrary date; and,
  • build, according to Central Staff, about 10,000 new social homes in the first decade, and create or support 34,000 jobs in that time period.

On the other hand, the Democrats’ Amazon Tax proposal would:

  • raise $174 million/year, but only beginning in 2022; 
  • expire in 2030, before the housing crisis is “over”;
  • build fewer homes and create and support fewer jobs than the Tax Amazon legislation; and,
  • will fall short of the community demands, including the just and reasonable demands put forward by the African-American clergy.
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