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Seattle City Council adds more COVID-19 renter protections as ‘Amazon Tax’ for relief and affordable housing remains stalled

Seattle has added two new protections for renters facing the economic challenges of the COVID-19 crisis but City Hall wasn’t celebrating Monday as the Seattle City Council approved a bill that gives tenants who fall behind on rent during the crisis the right to catch up on an installment plan.

The second yes vote on a bill co-sponsored by council member Kshama Sawant approved a new rule prohibiting landlords from turning down a tenant because they were evicted for failure to pay rent during the crisis. Sawant marked the victory but also had a lot to say about her stymied “Amazon Tax.”

“Today’s vote is an important victory for renters throughout our city and I am proud to have sponsored the legislation with Councilmember (Tammy) Morales,” Sawant said in an announcement about about the new protections. “It builds on other tenant organizing victories, most recently the winter eviction moratorium that our movement won earlier this year. But we also know corporate landlords will continue to try to find ways to exploit and abuse renters. That’s why it’s vital that we continue building the movement to win the complete suspension – without consequences – of rent, mortgage, and utility payments, and continue organizing renters to fight evictions.”

Council members voted 8 to 1 to block consideration of evictions during and six months after the COVID-19 restrictions. The second bill approved Monday will allow tenants to fall behind on rent to establish payment plans to catch up.

Despite the victories, Sawant used Monday’s full council meeting to call out. the body for its lack of action and stalling the so-called “Amazon Tax” on big businesses to pay for affordable housing. From SCCI:

But Sawant went into full attack mode, calling last week’s decision a “betrayal,” accusing Herbold, Gonzalez and Mosqueda of aligning with “big business” and cutting a back-room deal, and asserting to be false their claims to have made the decision based upon adherence to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Governor’s proclamation, and in the interests of public health. She repeated the allegations in a press release this afternoon, and staying true to form she pitted “big business” against “working people.” Before this afternoon’s Council meeting Sawant and the “Tax Amazon” campaign organized a “car caravan” protest rally circling an empty City Hall, and several campaign volunteers took turns during the public comment session rebuking the council members for the decision to suspend the deliberations.

“This action is disguised as some sort of responsible governance, but in reality, it is the Democratic establishment at the City and State levels colluding with big business in an attempt to undercut the momentum of the Amazon Tax movement,” the statement from the Sawant office reads. “In the context of the increasingly desperate situation facing so many working people in Seattle, this is an absolutely irresponsible and reckless maneuver on the part of politicians claiming to be progressive.”

Meanwhile, Sawant and the Tax Amazon group pushing for the new tax are hoping to gather enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot even if the council does not act. This week, the group was joined by the National Lawyers Guild in a call for Seattle and Washington officials to act to allow the initiative signature gathering process to move online during the COVID-19 crisis.

Organizers must procure “ten percent (10%) of the total votes cast for mayor at the last Mayoral election” to put the measure on the ballot for a November vote

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