[Editor’s Note: The following solidarity letter from Seattle City Council Member and Socialist Alternative Member Kshama Sawant was published before the New York State Legislature passed a historic package of rent stabilization laws, on June 14th, 2019. A full analysis of the rent laws will be published on socialistalternativenyc.org this week.]
Dear New York Rent Control Activists,
As a fighter for rent control and housing justice, and as an elected socialist in Seattle, I stand in solidarity with your movement. My City Council office fully supports your demand that your state legislature pass the bills that would establish universal rent control, strengthen tenants’ rights such as just-cause eviction, and expand rent control and tenant rights to all cities in the state! We send you our best wishes for these decisive next two days.
My office, alongside the Tenants Union of Washington State, Be:Seattle, Socialist Alternative, the Seattle Education Association, and other housing activists have recently launched our Seattle Needs Rent Control campaign. We are fighting for citywide, comprehensive rent control, free of corporate loopholes, to go into effect the moment Washington’s statewide ban on rent control is lifted. Support for rent control in Seattle has been growing rapidly, with thousands having signed our petition in just a few weeks.
We support your fight for strong rent control free of “vacancy decontrol,” the so-called “vacancy bonus” loophole, and all corporate loopholes rammed through by the NY real estate lobby. We join you in unambiguously opposing all insidious carve-outs, including unregulated rent increases associated with major capital improvements (MCI), individual apartment improvements (IAIs), and preferential rents. The closing of other loopholes like “owner use,” which allow landlords to pull homes out of rent stabilization protections through using them as supposed residences, are also crucial. During the past decades, each of these loopholes has acted to allow rents to skyrocket, and has left millions of working people chronically rent-burdened, or with the axe of economic eviction, or even homelessness, hanging over them. Tenants’ movements emerging around the country will need to understand the necessity of guarding against these loopholes going forward.
Our fight for rent control in Seattle is linked to yours in New York and to renters and working people across the country. Your success will be a huge boost for our movement here. Winning universal rent control protections in New York will inspire activists, renters, and working-class people everywhere to organize, and fight for their interests against corporate landlords and developers. While you have well-bought politicians like Andrew “Amazon” Cuomo in New York, we have Amazon’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, who last year helped lead the charge to shamefully repeal our Amazon Tax, which would have funded affordable housing.
Your approach of mass, nonviolent civil disobedience, protests, and the occupation of the offices of politicians is precisely what has shifted the balance of power between renters and big business enough to bring you close to winning historic gains, and has left the billionaires “shocked.” This kind of mass direct action will be needed in Seattle and at our state capital of Olympia if we are to win rent control here.
It is clear from the acute housing crisis in cities coast-to-coast that capitalism’s for-profit market has failed working people, and we need socialist policies. Seattle has been the nation’s construction crane capital for four years running, and construction has been booming. But housing here has become less and less affordable – we have double-digit vacancy rates downtown at the same time more than 10,000 people go unhoused. In addition to rent control, as I’m sure you agree, our cities need a massive expansion of social housing, that is, publicly-owned, permanently-affordable, high-quality housing, built and maintained by creating unionized, living-wage jobs.
Your struggle is our struggle. You have the full support of our movement in Seattle and working people nationally fighting for their right to live in their city!