While Sawant’s plan for 1000 affordable homes falters, she betrays housing advocates by supporting HALA’s massive market-rate construction scheme
Hey, Kshama, what gives?
This week, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant said she will support all of Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed new Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda’s (HALA) upzones. Under Murray’s proposal, developers can build bigger and taller buildings throughout the city in exchange for including on-site affordable housing or paying into a low-income housing fund. Developers will make millions and pay far too little in exchange. By siding with the developers, Sawant has abandoned housing activists, who warn that HALA’s upzones will make Seattle’s affordable housing crisis worse. Ironically, her break with housing activists over HALA is occurring while she is trying to divert $160 million from a new police precinct in North Seattle to build 1,000 affordable homes instead.
“She is going yes on the [HALA] upzones,” says Ted Virdone, Sawant’s city council staffer. “In a general sense, she supports density. In her support for the upzones, she’s not saying [density] will solve the problem, but it’s not the source of the problem. [The upzones] are not the main factor.”
Yet on Mon. Oct. 31, Sawant wrote, in an op-ed in The Seattle Times, “Unfortunately, too much of Seattle’s development has been leading to older rental buildings being torn down and steady losses in existing affordability.”
The above sentence clearly shows Sawant understands the torrid pace of Seattle’s new market-rate development has created more displacement, gentrification and homelessness. Since 2012, 28,000 new homes have been built or are under construction in Seattle, according to a letter signed by 19 housing advocates including Real Change’s Tim Harris, Tenants Union’s Liz Etta, The Church Council’s Michael Ramos and Seattle Displacement Coalition’s (full disclosure Outside City Hall’s publisher) John Fox. By January 2016, city government estimated Seattle’s homeless population has increased to 6,000. There is clearly a cause and effect here.
I asked Virdone, Why wouldn’t HALA’s upzones lead to the same result Sawant bemoaned in her op-ed? Seattle “is a growing city,” he replied. “We need more housing. We don’t only need more housing; we also need more affordable housing.”
Sadly, Sawant’s proposal to build 1,000 affordable homes has little-to-no chance to pass the city council this year. Sawant has tied the 1,000 homes to the #BlockTheBunker coalition, a grassroots movement led by people of color to stop the construction of a new $160 million police precinct in North Seattle. Sawant wants to use the cop-shop money to build the 1,000 homes. The council majority, unfortunately, supports the new North Precinct. In addition, Sawant has proposed a convoluted problematic financing plan to fund the 1,000 homes due to esoteric city and state regulations regarding bonds and housing construction.
Sawant’s effort to halt the construction of the cop shop, seen by the #BlockTheBunker coalition as an instrument of white supremacy, has shown how she will pursue the “impossible” for the sake of principle. Sometimes, she and popular movements have achieved the “impossible” as in the case of the $15 minimum wage and the defeat of the proposed rent hikes at the Seattle Housing Authority. She may stop the North Precinct yet.
That is the joy of having a revolutionary on the city council. She allies herself with protesters and tries to upend business as usual.
All of which makes her support of the HALA upzones an even more painful betrayal.
It is the job of socialist elected officials to ensure, at the very least, that as new, expensive market-rate homes are built that the old, cheap market-rate homes that were torn down or lost to gentrification in the process are replaced one-for-one.
It’s not too late Kshama. Vote against the HALA upzones and fight like hell for poor people’s homes.
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Award winning journalist George Howland Jr has been hired by Seattle Displacement Coalition to write for Outside City Hall about city politics, housing, homelessness and land-use. He works under his own editorial direction. The Displacement Coalition plays no role in choosing his specific subjects or editing his copy.