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Councilmember Sawant: “After Winning the Historic Amazon Tax, Our Movement Has Won Dedicated Funds for Central District Affordable Housing, Green New Deal, and Tiny House Villages”

“Our victory is the product of a working-class movement, led by socialists, who refused to be cowed and who forced big business to concede, and the courageous Black Lives Matter activists”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, hailed the City Council’s 9-0 vote today to approve the new Amazon tax “Spending Plan” resolution, and issued this statement:

“Today’s vote by Seattle City Council, along with the historic Amazon Tax victory earlier this month, represents the culmination of three years of determined, grassroots, rank-and-file-led organizing. We have forced the City establishment to dedicate at least $18 million per year of the Amazon Tax revenues for publicly-controlled, permanently-affordable housing for Black working-class and poor families in the Central District, and dedicated funds for the Green New Deal and Tiny House Villages.

“Our movement has won because we overcame the opposition of big business and the political establishment, who have fought us every step of the way. Make no mistake about it: the Amazon Tax and today’s funds for Black community housing in the Central District are not the result of political “collaboration” with big business, but rather are the product of a working-class movement, led by Black and Brown people and BLM activists, workers, and socialists.

“Big businesses themselves have admitted they were forced to concede to the Tax Amazon and Black Lives Matter movements. As Steve Hooper of Ethan Stowell Restaurants – a company that viciously opposed the Amazon Tax and the $15/hour minimum wage, said: “Our industry would have been disproportionately hammered by the Sawant/Morales proposal. I was trying to protect our industry, for sure, from the competing proposal that I thought was incredibly harmful.”

“These comments remind us that the interests of the super-wealthy and of working people and the poor are diametrically opposed, and it requires a political struggle to win victories for the majority.

Funding for housing – Black Lives Matter

“The Amazon Tax, approved July 6, will bring in at least $214 million/year. Today, the Council approved a “Spending Plan” for that tax, which calls for $133 million/year on affordable housing, including at least $18 million/year to build affordable housing in the Central District for Black working-class, and low-income families to be able to return to the neighborhoods they have been displaced from due to racist gentrification. 

“This was a movement victory, with strong leadership starting with the Black clergy who first raised the Central District housing demand, and spurred on by more than 220 faith leaders and activists who signed an open letter to the City Council and two ministers who authored an important op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald detailing the history of the political establishment’s complicity in racist gentrification.

“The Central District used to be more than 70 percent Black; today it is less than 18 percent Black, due to profit-seeking developers and the political establishment’s complicity with gentrification and economic eviction of Black people. The $18 million/year will begin to reverse that trend. Homes built with these funds will be targeted specifically to people who have been economically displaced from the neighborhood, and “community preference” policies will ensure that households that have been economically evicted will have a chance to return. The $18 million/year represents a minimum floor of investment, not a ceiling, because other housing funds in the Amazon tax “spending plan” resolution, the Housing Levy, and other sources also can and should be accessed for affordable housing development in the neighborhood. 

Funding for the Green New Deal

“The plan also includes first-time funding, about $20 million/year, for Green New Deal investments to increase the energy efficiency of existing homes and to train workers for Green New Deal jobs. 

“Last August, the Seattle City Council adopted a resolution in support of the Green New Deal, setting forth ambitious climate justice goals for the City. Unfortunately, the resolution was not accompanied by a commitment to fund the Green New Deal. Accordingly, our Tax Amazon movement, led by environmental activists, students, indigenous activists, and rank-and-file union members, beginning in January demanded that a portion of the tax be dedicated toward upgrading tens of thousands of existing homes to meet energy efficiency standards, and toward helping workers train for jobs in the new green economy. Today we have won $20 million/year in funding for the Green New Deal, a historic achievement for Seattle.

Tiny house villages

“The associated emergency COVID-19 funding bill for 2020 includes $3.6 million in funding for up to five new tiny house villages, to be built this year to house people who are living on the street or in shelters. Tiny house villages work. They help people gain stability in their lives, and they help people get into permanent housing. Last fall, working closely with tiny house village residents, the Low Income Housing Institute, Nickelsville, members of Socialist Alternative, and hundreds of activists, through the People’s Budget fight we won $2 million in new funding to expand tiny house villages. More than 500 people signed petitions calling for more tiny house villages, and dozens of tiny house village residents and other advocates showed up to testify at City Council meetings. A group of 43 faith leaders signed a letter to City Council calling for more tiny house villages, and I led a press conference at True Hope Tiny House Village with clergy and residents. Our $2 million victory last fall was a big step forward for tiny house villages, and today’s additional funding represents another step toward our goal of building enough tiny house villages to get everyone in Seattle into a stable shelter, with services and community. 

Next steps for our movement

“Our movement’s victory today, as with all struggles for justice under capitalism, is the outcome of the balance of forces between ordinary working people and the big-business-aligned political establishment. This also shows the urgent need to continue to build independent, democratically-organized movements with accountable leadership.

“We need to continue fighting forward from here for more funding to reverse racist gentrification, through the 2020 budget this summer, and the 2021 budget debate that will begin in September. Our People’s Budget, which is organized in part by my socialist Council office, also will be fighting to defund the police by at least 50 percent, stopping the inhumane sweeps of our homeless neighbors, and building more tiny house villages to get people off the streets and into stable shelter communities with privacy and dignity.”

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