Councilmember Sawant and Community Activists Announce Major Push for Rent Control

Home » Councilmember Sawant and Community Activists Announce Major Push for Rent Control

With landlords shamefully raising rents 9% since January, Sawant declares ‘Our movement is fighting for residential rent control, and commercial rent control for small businesses, without corporate loopholes. We’re fighting to cancel COVID debt – big banks and corporate landlords should pay for the crisis, not renters and working people.’

Joined by 40 renters, homeowners, small business owners, union members, socialists, faith and community activists, Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee, today announced she is introducing legislation to enact rent control and other major renters’ rights in Seattle. 

“Dramatic steps are needed to fight the growing crisis of economic displacement and gentrification, which is being fueled entirely by profiteering corporate landlords,” Sawant said.

“That’s why I’m proud today to stand alongside diverse community members, part of our renters’ rights movement, to announce major new legislation that demands housing as a human right. Our movement is fighting for residential rent control, and commercial rent control for small businesses, without corporate loopholes. We’re fighting to cancel COVID debt – big banks and corporate landlords should pay for the crisis, not renters and working people.”

Sawant said in introducing the residential rent control legislation, “Our movement will challenge the political establishment to overturn the current state ban and enact rent control to make Seattle affordable for all.”

Under Sawant’s bill, apartment rents in Seattle could go up no more than the annual rate of inflation.

Even before COVID and the capitalist recession of 2020, 46 percent of Seattle renters – 166,000 people – were officially “rent burdened,” paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent, and more than one out of every five renters was “severely rent burdened,” paying more than half of the income in monthly rent.

As Seattle residents barely begin to recover from the pandemic and recession, they are already experiencing landlords once again raising rates well above the rate of inflation. Industry analyst ApartmentList.Com found that between January and April 2021, rents across the board in Seattle for apartments of all sizes increased by 9 percent, an annualized rate of more than 40 percent. This puts rents on track to more than rebound in a very few months from the temporary 2020 drop, and to continue soaring at pre-pandemic crisis levels. 

“I have needed to move every single year since I first came to Seattle because I couldn’t find housing that was affordable or safe,” said Seattle renter Amzi Jeffs, a member of UAW 4121, the union of academic student employees at the University of Washington. “This has cost me thousands of dollars and a massive amount of personal effort. And my situation is not unique. Many of the members of our union face similar, and worse, hardships.”

“As a barista in this city, I struggled for months to find an affordable apartment to rent,” said Starbucks worker Star Willey. “Now the apartment that I moved into has become less affordable each time I renew my lease because they raise the rent every year. . . . the corporate landlords that manage my apartment building want to increase the rent exponentially. Many of my friends have moved out of Seattle because it is unaffordable, and I am afraid I will have to as well. Now the corporate landlords of my apartment are very slow fix repairs, if they do at all. They are trying to push out my neighbors who have lived there for over a decade.” 

Sawant also announced she is introducing legislation to enact commercial rent control in Seattle, to help struggling small businesses that are confronting the same displacement and gentrification pressures that working-class renters face.

The press conference was conducted outside Squirrel Chops, a queer, women-owned haircutting-and coffee-shop that like many small businesses is struggling against rising rents and gentrification. “Small businesses have faced an unprecedented destruction during the pandemic year while big corporations and the billionaire class have profiteered,” said Squirrel Chops co-owner Shirley Henderson. “That’s why we need commercial rent control, as well as residential rent control.”

In addition to those two rent control measures, Councilmember Sawant announced she will be introducing additional measures to immediately limit rent increases:

  • One ordinance Sawant is introducing would require landlords to provide 180 days’ notice before imposing a rent increase on tenants. Currently, landlords have to provide only 60 days’ notice for rent increases above 10 percent, and have no advance notice requirement for increases below 10 percent.
  • Another measure would require landlords to pay tenants for relocation when they force tenants out through rent increases.
  • A third measure – to Cancel COVID Debt – calls for rental, mortgage, and utility debt cancellation for renters and homeowners struggling under the dual burden of COVID and the capitalist recession.

Sawant announced the launch of a community petition for rent control and the other renter protection measures, with the goal of collecting 20,000 signatures to present to the City Council. Additionally, renters’ rights activists will rally on May 27, at 6 pm in Pratt Park, to advance the drive for rent control.

“It will be extremely difficult to win any of these renters’ rights bills,” Sawant noted. “And yet the moment is urgent, with tens of thousands of Seattle households struggling for economic survival.”

Sawant reminded the 40 activists gathered at the press conference that the renters’ rights movement would face major opposition from corporate landlords and most politicians. 

“Just 12 months ago, as our movement was advancing our Amazon Tax, Mayor Durkan declared, ‘Yeah, that never is going to happen, and I think it’s irresponsible for anyone to say that that’s even possible.’

“Well, we organized, we fought back, and we proved the mayor wrong,” Sawant noted. “We won the Amazon Tax. That’s the kind of grassroots momentum we need to build again.”

Community activist Castill Hightower, who has been organizing with Sawant to win justice for her brother Herbert, who was killed by Seattle police in 2004, spoke in solidarity with the renters’ rights movement and underscored the need to build independent grassroots power. “We will have to build democratically-organized, rank-and-file-driven movements to win. We cannot rely on the Democratic politicians, not on the so-called movement leaders who say they speak for the rest of us but believe that their insider negotiations with establishment politicians are going to achieve results, and put their own relations with powerful politicians first. We know that never works for us,” she said.

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