For Massive Public Investment in Housing, Rent Control, and Independent Politics

“We! Are! Ready to fight! Housing is a human right!” chanted a crowd of 90 socialists, renters, and homeless activists. On June 17, Affordable Seattle, a project launched by Socialist Alternative and Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, held an opening rally and began door-knocking. Based on a program of building more affordable housing and rent control, we’re calling for a vote for two independent candidates in this year’s city elections: Jon Grant for City Council and Nikkita Oliver for Mayor.

If you walk around Seattle and look up, you will see luxury high-rises, super-profitable corporations, and a construction crane around every corner. On the other hand, if you look around you, you will see a staggering 11,000 houseless people, a working class getting systematically displaced from their communities due to the fastest-rising rents of any city in the U.S. Even with the hard-fought $15 minimum wage, a minimum-wage worker would have to work 87 hours per week to actually afford an average one-bedroom apartment (TheStranger.com, 6/8/2017).

Oppressed communities are facing some of the worst consequences of this. The formerly majority-black neighborhood of the Central District is now being rapidly displaced. Since 2000 with the tech boom, average yearly income in Seattle has grown by $30,000 – and rent has skyrocketed – while average income for black families has actually declined.

There is a similar story for the working-class LGBTQ community, which was able to call the Capitol Hill neighborhood home for decades. That community is now splintering under the rising cost of rent. In what was previously a safe-haven neighborhood, there has been a surge in hate crimes.

In Seattle, people are fired up and ready to fight back against the big developers and rent-gouging landlords. That is why Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant launched Affordable Seattle as the next step to give expression to this anger. This movement fights for quality housing to be a human right and puts forward three core demands for working people to organize around:

  • Build tens of thousands of quality public housing units, paid for by taxing big business, and require that 25% of all newly developed housing be affordable.
  • Seattle needs rent control as an emergency measure to address the crisis of out-of-control rent hikes.
  • Make landlords pay for economic evictions: when rent is raised by 10% or more and forces a tenant to move, landlords should be forced to pay $3,700 for moving costs.

Already, the new housing movement has won some important initial victories, such as a ban on slumlords raising rents as long as there are housing code violations, shifting tens of millions of dollars from the police budget to build affordable housing, and requiring landlords to offer a six-month payment plan for move-in fees and deposits. There is a burning need for more, and Affordable Seattle is a way to kick that fight into high gear.

Seattle has had years of the political establishment enacting developer-friendly policies based on enshrining the right to make profit off of housing. By building the grassroots movement 15 Now in 2014, Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant led the way in the fight to win the $15 minimum wage. Now we need to focus on building a housing movement to fight back against the developers and landlords.

That is why Affordable Seattle is supporting two political candidates who are clear about whose side they’re on. Jon Grant is running for City Council and Nikkita Oliver for Mayor. Both candidates refuse corporate and developer money, and they have taken on these housing demands. Both are experienced activists and are running independently of the Democratic Party. Nikkita Oliver is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle, and Jon Grant led the Tenants Union of Washington State. While Socialist Alternative does not fully agree with these candidates on every issue, their election would be a powerful step forward for the growing housing movement.

Up to the city primary election on August 1, Affordable Seattle volunteers will be putting in over 1,200 hours of door-knocking to lay the foundation for this movement and the candidates who fight for these demands. We are building for a big launch rally on July 29, which will announce Affordable Seattle to the public and media as a force prepared to fight.

By organizing renters and communities around these core demands, we can build a movement that can push back against the influence of the big developers. Housing should be a human right, but as long as millionaire and billionaire landlords control Seattle’s housing stock, housing will be run for profits, not human need. Only publicly owned and operated housing can be rationally planned to make sure it is affordable for all, facilitate stable community-building, and actually make housing a real human right.