Sawant, African-American Faith Leaders Unveil Community Demand for 1,000 New Affordable Homes, Funded by $500M/Year Amazon Tax, for Residents Displaced Due to Racist Gentrification

‘Members of the political establishment who say Black Lives Matter need to put action behind their tweets and sloganeering, and join with me in supporting the African-American faith leaders’ demands, without reservation – adopt the Tax Amazon legislation so we can build these homes and reverse racist gentrification.’

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, joined with Central District senior pastors, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), and community activists Thursday at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church to unveil community demands that the city commit to build 1,000 new affordable homes over three years for historic residents and those displaced from the Central District, funded by a progressive tax on big business that raises at least $500 million per year. This is in addition to building thousands of affordable social homes throughout the city.

The Livestream recording of the press conference in front of the church is here.

Coming as tens of thousands of people in Seattle have taken to the streets to declare that Black Lives Matter, the clergy unveiled their letter to the city outlining their Central Area Housing Plan, which calls on the city to commit to a massive plan to build new publicly-controlled, permanently-affordable homes, tiny house villages, and services, while providing for apprenticeships and jobs for young people, and helping churches build affordable housing on their properties.

The faith leaders’ letter notes that the displacement of long-time African-American residents from Seattle’s Central District is the result of racist policies that originated in slavery, segregation, racial covenants, redlining, urban renewal, and now gentrification and economic eviction. Seattle’s Central District used to be more than 70% African-American; today, it is less than 20% Black.

“This is the challenge to the City Council as well as to Mayor Durkan,” said Rev. Willie Seals, pastor of The Christ Spirit Church. “You must acknowledge the existence of the persistent and institutional racism that has decimated the Seattle African-American population.”

“Simply put, if Black Lives Matter, then affordable housing for Black families in the Central Area should matter,” said Rev. Carey Anderson, pastor of Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church. “It was Martin Luther King who said ‘Life’s most important question is – what are you doing for others?’ We are simply asking if we really believe in not the rhetoric, not the slogans, but the fact that Black Lives Matter, then do what’s right, for what’s right.”

“I would like to talk to the rich and powerful in Seattle,” said Rev. Robert Jeffrey, Sr., pastor of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, where the press conference was held. “You cannot sit on mountains of money, and hide behind a system that you say protects you, while the world goes to hell in a handbasket around you.”

The faith leaders’ letter calls on the city to “Implement a progressive tax to raise a minimum of $500 million per year” to fund:

  • 1,000 new affordable homes in the Central Area, especially for historic residents and households displaced over the years by racist gentrification;
  • 5,000 new units of permanent supportive housing;
  • More tiny house villages to house 2,000 currently-unsheltered people;
  • Apprenticeship and training opportunities with a focus on youth of color; and,
  • $500 million in bonds for low-income housing construction.

The letter also calls on the city to end the cruel sweeps of homeless encampments; adopt an ordinance to be introduced by Councilmember Sawant, to allow churches to increase density on church properties to build more low-income housing; and demilitarize the police department and strengthen public oversight.

“I’m proud to stand here today with these clergy and the Low Income Housing Institute to demand that the city and its political establishment acknowledge the historic wrongs inflicted on this community, and commit to taking the concrete steps – not words, but Sawant said.  “My socialist council office wholeheartedly supports all of the nine demands in their letter, just as I wholeheartedly support the demands of the King County Equity Now Coalition,” she said.  “Members of the political establishment who say Black Lives Matter need to put action behind their tweets and sloganeering, and join with me in supporting the African-American faith leaders’ demands, without reservation – adopt the Tax Amazon legislation so we can build these homes and reverse racist gentrification.”

The Tax Amazon legislation is co-sponsored by Councilmember Sawant and Councilmember Tammy J. Morales.

Also speaking at the press conference were Rev. Lawrence Willis from Truevine of Holiness Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Angela Ying from Bethany United Church of Christ, and Aisaya Corbray from Low Income Housing Institute.

Lifelong Central Area resident Renee Gordon noted how family members have been pushed out of the area over the years because of gentrification and economic eviction. The faith leaders’ plan, funded by taxing Amazon and other big businesses, would reverse that and allow African-Americans to return, she said. “Tax Amazon now. They can afford it. Tax big businesses now. Stop gentrification. It’s time for reparations. It’s time to repair our nation. It’s time to stand up and fight back for what’s right,” Gordon said.

Sawant noted that earlier this week another proposal has been brought to the City Council by Councilmember Mosqueda, to raise $174 million/year beginning in 2022. “The fact that this new proposal has been put forward is itself confirmation that our movement for the Amazon Tax is succeeding in putting pressure on the establishment,” Sawant said. But, she noted, while the Amazon tax would fund construction of 10,000 new, affordable social homes over the next 10 years, Mosqueda’s proposal would fund less than half of that figure. And, while the Amazon tax would be permanent, Mosqueda’s “Jump Start” tax proposal would ‘ sunset’ after 10 years.

“Our Amazon tax is the bare minimum of what’s needed,” Sawant concluded. “We have to build a powerful movement to fight for a tax that will fund the social housing that working people in the Central Area and throughout the city need. I urge the City Council to join our community.”

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