My Letter to KC Tenants Requesting Letter of Support for Seattle Rent Control Fight

Sent July 28, 2023

Dear Tara and everyone at KC Tenants,

My name is Kshama Sawant. I believe we had been in touch some years ago in the context of renters’ rights issues. Congratulations on all the work KC Tenants has been doing! 

As you might know, for the past nearly ten years I have served as the only socialist on the Seattle City Council, and through building movements of renters and working people, we have won a series of important renters’ rights. I am writing today to ask for your urgent public support for the strong citywide rent control legislation that my office has brought forward in Seattle, and which will be voted on by the City Council this coming Tuesday, August 1st. A victory in Seattle on Tuesday will undoubtedly be an important step forward in our nationwide fight for rent control and housing justice.

Our renters’ rights movement in Seattle has a chance to win a strong rent control bill with none of the corporate loopholes that have infamously gutted rent control policies across the country. Our law would cover every rental unit in the entire city, with no “vacancy decontrol” or exemptions for new construction. 

However, it’ll come as no surprise to you that many of the City Councilmembers are opposing the legislation. Their opposition is not a politically neutral act, as we know. They are serving the interests of the corporate real estate industry that has been gouging working-class and poor renters, especially communities of color. 

At the Renters’ Rights Committee on Friday last week, only one Councilmember voted YES alongside me, while three voted NO. One of those NO votes was from City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who is a self-described progressive and labor Democrat. This is openly a pro-corporate-landlord vote, and renters in our city are fighting to force him to reverse his position at the final City Council vote on August 1st, and to get other self-described progressive Democrats to vote YES. 

Like in many cities, we face an acute cost-of-living and housing affordability crisis. Rents in Seattle nearly doubled from 2010 to 2020, and as a result of this relentless price-gouging, rent control is enormously popular among working people—71 percent of Washington State likely voters said they supported it in 2020, and since 2015 my office and my political organization Socialist Alternative have helped gather more than 35,000 signatures for rent control in the Seattle area.

Rent control has been illegal in Washington State since 1981, thanks to a bipartisan effort of Democrats and Republicans looking to stamp out a wave of powerful renter organizing. Since then, Democrats have held majorities in Washington State for around 30 years, and have used those majorities to keep the rent control ban firmly intact. This year, Democrats allowed two rent control bills to die without so much as a committee discussion, much less any actual voting—despite the housing crisis statewide having been at such devastating proportions for years. 

The legislation my office is fighting for is a trigger law, going into effect as soon as the statewide ban is lifted. But winning the trigger law itself is the momentum we need to take the fight to the State Legislature! Seattle renters, and many statewide as well, understand how pivotal winning this bill on Tuesday will be, and hundreds have spoken up publicly again and again. Please watch the public hearing I hosted two weeks ago if you get a moment, to see the powerful support for our legislation.

A letter from KC Tenants in solidarity with our struggle, demanding that Seattle City Council Democrats vote Yes on our rent control bill, would be of enormous significance, and will play a big role in putting pressure on the City Councilmembers. It would demonstrate the kind of fighting national solidarity that our renters’ rights movements need.

In our fight for a Renters’ Bill of Rights, movements of renters and community members alongside my office have won ten major pieces of renters’ rights legislation over the past ten years, including six months’ notice for rent increases, forcing landlords to pay economic evictions assistance if they raise rents more than 10 percent, and the right to a lawyer for all tenants facing eviction. We have also won historic victories like the first $15 minimum wage in a major city and the Amazon Tax, a $200 million tax on the wealthiest corporations in Seattle to fund affordable housing. 

Each time, we won by exposing the forces of the political establishment and big business that sought to defeat us. As you can attest from your experiences filling City Council meetings with renters and activists to put pressure on elected officials to stand with you, it always comes down to getting working people organized to build powerful public movements, not backroom negotiating. So thank you all again for the tenant organizing and fightback you have engaged in!

Please let me know if you can urgently send a letter to the Seattle City Council in support of our rent control legislation, or if you would like to talk further.

Thank you so much,

Kshama Sawant

Seattle City Councilmember, District 3

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