USA: Seattle activists win housebuilding programme
Adam Ziemkowski, Socialist Alternative (US co-thinkers of the Socialist Party)
Housing activists in Seattle, organised into the 'Coalition to Build 1,000 Homes', have scored a major victory, winning $29 million for affordable housing in the 2017-2018 council budget. They pushed through a final unanimous vote in the city council, despite fierce opposition from the city's Democratic establishment.
Seattle city council member and Socialist Alternative activist, Kshama Sawant, who spearheaded the effort, celebrated the movement's victory and explained: "Let's be clear. We won this because we built our coalition and a movement. We made it impossible for corporate Democratic politicians to ignore our proposal."
200 new homes
The additional $29 million will allow the city to build nearly 200 homes for low-income residents, and it sets an important precedent for using city bonding authority to build desperately needed affordable housing.
For working people in Seattle, especially communities of colour, this is a big deal. Seattle is experiencing an economic boom and an unprecedented wave of development, but as luxury condos and office space are built, they often replace older, more affordable units.
Rents are rising faster in Seattle than anywhere else in the country, and more than 4,500 people are living on the streets without shelter. Seattle family doctor and coalition member Libby Loft observed: "If I could write a prescription for housing, it would be far more powerful than any medicine at my fingertips."
The 1,000 Homes movement emerged out of a victory by Black Lives Matter and other activists, who successfully blocked construction of a new $160 million police precinct. Kshama's office then reached out broadly to service providers, activists, unions, faith communities, housing advocates, and social justice organisations to fight to use that same funding to instead benefit ordinary people and communities of colour.
In the end, hundreds of activists and more than 70 organisations joined the coalition. Many also saw spending the money on housing as the best way to permanently block the new police "bunker".
1,000 Homes coalition members again and again packed City Hall for budget meetings and public hearings. Hundreds of people made phone calls, sent emails, and signed petitions to council members.
We plastered the town with posters, and progressive Democrats from Seattle legislative districts passed resolutions supporting the 1,000 Homes demand. Coalition activists also organised 'stand-outs' on street corners and attended events to demand other council members vote yes on Kshama's 1,000 Homes amendment.
We compelled the mayor and city council members to respond to our demand, which they had so desperately wanted to ignore.
First, they said it was impossible to build housing with the police precinct money. After Kshama presented a detailed report from city staff explaining exactly how the money could be reallocated, the Democratic establishment changed its tune and instead claimed the proposal was "fiscally irresponsible".
But community members kept hammering them with a simple question: why did the bonds make fiscal sense when proposed for the most expensive police precinct on the continent, but not for affordable housing?
Ultimately, the council rejected the full $160 million proposal, voting instead for a much smaller $29 million package and leaving funding available for a new police precinct in the future. While celebrating their victory, coalition activists were understandably outraged by the council's serious weakening of the measure, given the gravity and urgency of Seattle's housing crisis.
In mid-December 2016, coalition members helped Kshama pass ground-breaking tenant rights legislation, capping move-in fees and requiring landlords to offer payment plans - over howls of opposition from the real estate lobby.