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Kshama Sawant, rent control
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Kshama Sawant takes jab at Republicans, Dems during rent control testimony

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant listens to Patty Kuderer explain why she signed Senate Bill 6400. (TVW)

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant didn’t miss the opportunity to take a few jabs at Republicans as she argued for a lift on the state’s rent control ban.

Sawant, testifying in front of the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions & Insurance on Tuesday, said:

“I’m a Socialist. But while I’m not a member of the Democratic Party, I fully support defeating Republicans and the right wing,” Sawant said. “The question is, what does the Democratic establishment plan to do with their majorities in both houses and with the governor being a Democrat?”

RELATED: The House effort to strike down Washington’s rental control ban

Sawant said the “housing market under capitalism” does not work, and the market’s intended goal is to “maximize returns for wealthy investors.” She called for a movement with candidates who are not supported by big business and developers. She noted that Governor Jay Inslee gave Boeing a massive $9 billion “handout” four years ago before the moderator stopped her testimony and asked her to stick to the topic of rent control.

“Will the Democratic Party now tax big business to fully fund affordable housing?” she said. “For example, $9 billion could fund a massive expansion of publicly-owned affordable housing, create tens of thousands of green, unionized jobs, and end homelessness in Washington state.”

Rent control

Sawant was speaking about Senate Bill 6400, which aims to abolish Washington’s ban on rent control. Seattle is one city where officials have wanted to implement some form of rent control to fight rising housing costs.

Sawant said that the problem in her city has been worsened by out-of-control landlords and developers.

“Big developers, the real estate lobby, the right-wing say we should just leave it to the market; that we should just increase supply and rents will stabilize,” Sawant said. “Well, that hypothesis has been tested now for nearly a decade and has failed. We are seeing a housing boom. You cannot walk in Seattle for a few blocks without seeing one of those massive yellow cranes. We are seeing rents skyrocketing in such a way that they have increased by 65 percent since 2010. The average two-bedroom rent is greater than $2,000 a month and homelessness is at historic highs.”

“Rent control is a policy that will not stop landlords from adjusting rents to inflation, and will not in any way stop developers from building,” she added. “But it will regulate rents such that rents don’t get jacked up making housing unaffordable and displacing ordinary renters repeatedly from their homes.”

Senator Patty Kuderer told Sawant that she appreciated her “sincerely held” views. Noting that she signed the bill because she thinks a conversation around rent control needs to happen.

“But I want you to understand I am not 100 percent behind it,” she told Sawant, citing the situation in San Francisco where rent control was implemented and the housing crisis got worse.

The senator also said that not all developers and landlords are “big.” She wanted to know how Sawant intends to address the small businesses and landlords in her city.

Sawant countered by saying that San Francisco’s rent control laws were tainted by the real estate lobby that created a loophole — it allowed rents to rise to market rates after a lower-income renter left. She argued that New York City saw a great housing boom under its own rent control policy.

“As far as small landlords are concerned,” Sawant said. “I have met many small landlords, many for whom it‘s their nest egg; retirees. They all, without exception, have told me, when I told them what rent control means in my view, they say, ‘Oh, that policy won’t even affect me because right now … I would still fall under the radar.'”

“I think rent control will phenomenally make housing affordable, will help the standard of living of renters, it will not negatively affect small landlords,” she said. “But it will make sure that hand-over-fist, greed profit that big speculative investors are getting — they will not get that … I also agree it is not a one size fits all. In addition to rent control, we also need a massive expansion of publicly-owned housing. Because the rents have increased so much, the damage has already been done.”

The bill’s sponsors include:

  • Senator Maralyn Chase, 32nd District (Shoreline, Lynnwood)
  • Senator Bob Hasegawa,11th District (Seattle, Tukwila)
  • Senator Sam Hunt, 22nd District (Olympia)
  • Senator Patty Kuderer, 48th District (Parts of Redmond, Bellevue, and Kirkland)
  • Senator Rebecca Saldaña, 37th District (South Seattle, Renton)

This story has been updated to correct the sponsors of the bill. Senator Jan Angel, 26th District (South Kitsap), is not a sponsor.

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