‘By getting organized, today we won the nation’s strongest ban on school-year evictions, the resolution to extend the eviction moratorium, and the strengthening of our city’s eviction defense laws. Let’s continue fighting for a full Renters’ Bill of Rights – for rent control and to cancel COVID debt!’
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee, congratulated rank-and-file renters, union members, and socialists on victories today following the passage of Resolution 31998 and other crucial legislation that will benefit Seattle renters struggling in the aftermath of pandemic, debt, and Seattle’s acute affordable housing crisis driven by the for-profit market.
“By getting organized, today we won the nation’s strongest ban on school-year evictions, the resolution to extend the eviction moratorium, and the strengthening of our city’s eviction defense laws,” Sawant said.
“I thank the Seattle Education Association, UAW 4121, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, School Board Director Zachary Dewolf, El Centro de la Raza, Sound Alliance, the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association (SCPTSA), Socialist Alternative, and the organizations in the Stay Housed Stay Healthy Coalition.
“Our movement won not by our Council office agreeing to concessions and making inside deals, but rather by turning outward and organizing working people and fighting boldly for our needs. Renters came out by the hundreds to demand that the other City Councilmembers vote for our bills. For example, over just this past weekend, 637 community members wrote letters to City Council demanding stronger protections for renters, and 525 people signed our street petitions, from Magnolia to West Seattle to Rainier Beach, calling for rent control and stronger renter protections. We need to build on today’s victories to fight for a full-fledged Renters’ BIll of Rights, including rent control without loopholes. We also must fight to cancel COVID debt. Join us at our upcoming Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee on June 22.”
This afternoon the Seattle City Council:
1. Unanimously adopted Resolution 31998 introduced by Councilmember Sawant, calling on Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee to extend the city and state eviction moratoriums, which expire in just 23 days.
2. Adopted by a 6-1 vote Council Bill 120046, which was introduced by Councilmember Sawant and represents the nation’s strongest ban on school-year evictions of schoolchildren, their families, and school workers.
3. Adopted by a 5-2 vote Council Bill 120090, prime-sponsored by Councilmembers Sawant and Tammy Morales and co-sponsored by Councilmember Andrew Lewis. The bill protects tenants from being evicted without a good reason at the end of their “term leases,” by requiring that landlords provide tenants with the right to renew their leases. This closes an important loophole in tenant protections that big landlords have been exploiting for decades.
4. Adopted by a 5-2 vote Council Bill 120077, introduced by Councilmember Morales and co-sponsored by Councilmember Sawant, prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent if the rent was due during the COVID civil emergency and the renter could not pay due to financial hardship.
“Today’s bills put people before profits. They put the rights of renters above the interests of corporate landlords. They prioritize housing stability instead of racist gentrification,” Sawant said. “I especially want to congratulate the hundreds of community members who wrote letters to City Councilmembers in the days leading up to today’s votes, and to the dozens of community members who spoke out in public comment against watering down the bills with pro-corporate landlord amendments that were introduced two weeks ago.”
Sawant vowed to take today’s momentum to continue fighting for the movement’s full renters’ bill of rights.
As a next step, Sawant said she would hold hearings on June 22 in the City Council’s Renters’ Rights Committee on the movement’s next two bills:
- An ordinance requiring landlords to provide a 6-month notice before imposing any rent increase. Currently landlords may increase rents by more than 10% with only 60 days’ notice, and may impose smaller rent increases with even less notice.
- An ordinance requiring landlords to pay tenants for relocation costs if the tenant is forced out due to rent increases. Portland, OR recently enacted legislation that requires such “economic eviction assistance.”
“These next two bills will be difficult to win but our movement is gaining momentum and we are determined,” Sawant said. Underscoring the urgency of the moment, Sawant noted that Seattle landlords have raised rents an average of 13.4 percent between January and May 2021, according to industry analyst ApartmentList.Com. “Shamefully, big landlords are wasting no time in jacking up rents in 2021,” Sawant said. She noted that the ApartmentList.Com report boasted to its landlord clients that “‘Pandemic pricing’ is officially over” and “2021 has seen some of the fastest rent growth we have on record in our data.”
“These shocking 2021 rent increases are precisely why we need to ban rent increases without 180 days’ notice, and require landlords to pick up the cost of the trauma and dislocation they cause when they evict tenants through rent increases,” Sawant said.
Today’s Council action:
1. The eviction moratorium resolution
The resolution, introduced by Councilmember Sawant on behalf of the renter rights movement, calls on Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee to extend eviction moratoriums through the end of 2021. Currently, the city and state eviction bans expire in just 23 days.
“Our movement’s resolution victory today sends a strong message to Mayor Durkan and the political establishment – they need to extend the moratorium through the end of 2021 for renters and struggling small businesses,” Sawant said.
2. School-year eviction ban
The school-year eviction ban, also introduced by Councilmember Sawant on behalf of the movement, protects schoolchildren, their families, and school workers from eviction during the school year.
As of March, the Seattle School District reported that 2,149 students – one out of every 25 in the district – were experiencing homelessness. The District reported they were living in group homes, shelters, doubled up with other families, and in transitional housing. Other students reported living on the street or in a vehicle. Over the course of a school year, about 4,200 students experience homelessness – one out of every 13. This shameful situation comes at a time when corporate landlords are making huge profits while working people struggle.
“Today’s school-year eviction ban is a defeat for the corporate landlord lobby, and a victory for Black Lives Matter and for racial justice,” Sawant said, noting that disproportionately, Black and Brown students struggle with homelessness. Fully 40.7 percent of homeless Seattle students are Black, three times the rate of Black students in the overall school population. And 23.3 percent of homeless students are Latinx, though Latinx students constitute 12 percent of the overall student population.
Sawant applauded renters and rank-and-file educators for the legislative win. She also highlighted a powerful support letter from the Seattle Education Association, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, and the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition for helping to boost today’s win.
3. ‘Right-of-first-refusal’ protections for renters
The ordinance, sponsored jointly by Councilmembers Sawant and Morales, and cosponsored by Councilmember Lewis, closes an important loophole in tenant protections that big landlords have been exploiting for decades. The new law requires landlords to offer tenants in term leases – typically 6 or 12 months – the right to renew their lease, unless the landlord has a valid reason under city law.
“This law will prevent eviction and displacement and will reduce the uncertainty that tens of thousands of Seattle tenants face every year. It’s a victory for renters who otherwise face the uncertainty of having to move every time their lease expires,” Sawant noted, adding, “We know the big evictors in Seattle are corporate landlords, not mom-and-pop landlords who own one or two units, so today’s victory is a blow against the big landlords.”
4. Financial hardship protections for tenants
The ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Morales and co-sponsored by Councilmember Sawant, prohibits evictions based on the non-payment of rent if the rent was due during the COVID civil emergency and the tenant could not pay due to financial hardship.
“This is an important victory for renters,” Sawant said. “Tens of thousands of Seattle residents fell behind on rent during COVID, and this new law protects them against being evicted for being unable to pay.”
Sawant noted that the financial hardship bill provides some protection, but renters need more than leniency in repaying COVID debts. “Our movement has to go beyond demanding better repayment terms, and fight for cancellation of all rents, mortgages and utilities for people who lost income during COVID,” she said.
“The COVID health crisis coupled with the capitalist recession created tens of billions of dollars in new debt for tens of millions of working class households,” Sawant noted. “Meanwhile, US billionaires saw their wealth increase by $1.6 trillion in just the last year, according to the Institute for Policy Studies. This is absolutely shameful, and it points out why we need to cancel COVID debt outright.”