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Seattle's Socialist City Council Member Thinks Housing Is a Human Right—Unless it Comes at the Expense of Music Venues

Khsama Sawant is doing everything in her power to kill a 442-unit apartment project because it would replace an iconic concert hall.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia CommonsSeattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant favors raising more money for affordable housing, except when she doesn't.

A few months ago, Sawant was fighting for the "Amazon tax," a literal tax on jobs that would have raised some $75 million annually to fund affordable housing and services for the homeless. Now, however, the one self-identified socialist on the Seattle City Council is doing her best to kill a proposed downtown building that would provide 442 apartments and $5 million for the city's affordable housing fund from the project's developer, the Canadian company Onni.

Sawant is willing to forgo that money because the apartment building would replace a music venue that currently occupies the spot, Seattle's iconic Showbox. "If we let the Showbox be demolished, then everything else is moot," Sawant warned Bloomberg last week.

The fight for the Showbox, where performers such as Duke Ellington and Pearl Jam have appeared, began in late July, when it was first reported that Onni's project would require the venue's demolition. A petition calling for the preservation of the concert hall netted nearly 100,000 signatures and the endorsement of famous Seattle artists such as Macklemore, Guns and Roses bassist Duff McKagan, and Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard. The cause was quickly picked up by Sawant, who introduced legislation last week to declare the Showbox part of the nearby Pike Place Market Historical District, which would essentially kill Onni's project.

On Monday, the city council unanimously passed a temporary, 10-month expansion of the historical district, while it mulls whether to make the change permanent. That move prevents Onni from going forward with its planned apartment building for the time being and ensures that any zoning changes can be imposed retroactively.

Helping to kill off a housing project that would add hundreds of new units to the overpriced city in order to save one of Seattle's many music venues might seem slightly hypocritical coming from Sawant. She has called housing a "human right," a right she is now subordinating to preservation of a concert hall. She supported a "linkage fee" that new developments would pay into the affordable housing fund but is now ready to pass up the $5 million offered by Onni.

Last year Sawant voted to rezone the land on which the Showbox sits, which is what made Onni's proposed apartment building possible in the first place. Now she is having second thoughts.

Sawant insisists her Showbox-saving efforts will not cost the city affordable housing. "This is not about affordable housing, and I don't think we should accept councilmembers who say this is about affordable housing," Sawant said during last week's city council meeting. "It is about the community going up against a big developer."

The Stranger quotes Sawant as saying, "We will succeed in saving the Showbox, but...this could be the catalyst for the future struggle for affordable housing. Maybe we can win the Amazon tax that was repealed; maybe we can win a tax on big businesses. Why should we stop with just saving the Showbox?"

The idea that saving a music venue will ultimately lead to more affordable housing seems far-fetched. The city is obviously out the $5 million fee that would have subsidized new housing. And while the apartments that Onni wants to build would not necessarily be affordable for low-income renters, killing the project will only serve to raise rents further across the city as the tenants who otherwise would have lived in the new building bid up prices for the existing housing units.

There is also a concern that the city council's flipflopping on the Showbox site will set a bad precedent that will further constrain the housing supply in Seattle. "The council has shown that they will overturn major land-use policy decisions that took years to develop in response to concerted public pressure from vocal interest groups," observes Erica Barnett at the Seattle housing blog The C is for Crank, noting that there is little to stop the city council from bending to public pressures on future developments.

I think that's a fair concern. The 10-month pause may prompt Onni, which does not yet own the site, to walk away from the project. It's also possible the current owner will sue the city for the reversing the rezoning, arguing that it's a taking of his property without due process. Sawant has suggested the city might buy and operate the Showbox. Whatever happens with the concert hall, it looks increasingly unlikely that Seattle will see new housing on the site anytime soon.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia commons

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  • esteve7||

    You have no right to my labor or my property.

    Socialism is not bad because it is inefficient, it is bad because it is evil.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I came at anarchy-of-sorts from both angles -- self-ownership and competency. It's amazing how well they mesh.

    Government is flat-out incompetent at everything it touches. Even its core competency, violent self-preservation, has been done much better by the Mafia. Socialism ruins economies so much that everybody, including the elites, is worse off.

    Lots of businesses are just as incompetent, but the market lets them fail. That's the primary difference. If governments could be freely chosen -- hired and fired -- and could go bankrupt for lack of customers, they would be competent, but then they'd also not be large and in charge.

  • Microaggressor||

    That's what it boils down to.

    "I have a right to _______ (product requiring somebody else's labor)" conflicts with the right to own private property. Just as the slaveholder insists that his slave is not entitled to his own property. You work, I eat.

    It's a position that happens to be anti-human rights and pro-slavery. But they frequently call themselves human rights advocates, so who am I to argue?

  • perlchpr||

    "Moronic Socialist Says Moronic Things: News at 11"

  • perlchpr||

    I have to admit, reading this article, now I want to see the Showbox burned to the ground.

  • perlchpr||

    Preferably with Sawant and a fire code violating number of her fellow travellers inside.

  • BikeRider||

    Was anyone expecting consistent, logical thought from a socialist?

    Next she'll say that the sun should set in the East every other day so that everyone get's a fair chance to view pretty sunsets.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

  • BikeRider||

    That's funny. However, it would be even funnier if I wasn't afraid that someone might take it seriously.

  • perlchpr||

    Amusing. It also shows the age of the piece, since to properly mock politicians these days you'd have to advocate actually outlawing the sun, and attempting to fine it for continuing to shine. And even then you might still run afoul of Poe's Law.

    To take another example: When a product — coal, iron, wheat, or textiles — comes to us from abroad, and when we can acquire it for less labour than if we produced it ourselves, the difference is a gratuitous gift that is conferred up on us.

    Maybe someone needs to have Trump read this.

  • DrZ||

    But not everyone will be able to see the sun. We can call these people the "unseen".

  • juris imprudent||

    Ah, the irony, as it is AEG, the giant entertainment corporation, that operates the Showbox. Dumbshit socialist helping a multinational corporation. You really just can't make this shit up.

  • Microaggressor||

    Celebrities were upset. Won't somebody please think of the celebrities?

  • sarcasmic||

    These are the same people who are so keen on preserving cultures. Like living museum style. Cultures fail for a reason, and so do businesses. Let people do what they fucking want.

  • Freddy the Jerk||

    The fight for the Showbox, where performers such as Duke Ellington and Pearl Jam have appeared

    Nevermind the business as usual socialist hypocrisy, mentioning Duke Ellington and that whiny bitch Eddie Vedder's "rock" band in the same statement should be grounds for gulaging.

  • ||

    It's actually really a kinda sad statement that that's all they can say about the Show Box. Not like it's The Cavern, Whisky A Go Go, or Cafe Wha?. Places that literally launched rock legends, dozens of them, and where you could legitimately say without them we may not have entire genres of music that we know today. It's not even like it's a music venue notorious in some wildly popular band's hit song(s) that half a dozen other hit bands have flocked to or where some supergroup or out-of-retirement band launched their comeback tour.

    Nope, the Show Box hosted Duke Ellington once.

  • SIV||

    Not like it's The Cavern, Whisky A Go Go, or Cafe Wha?

    Or Max's Kansas City, CBGBs, the Star-Club, or The great Southeast Music Hall. I could name a dozen more...

    I've never even heard of The Showbox. The most famous venue by far in the Seattle area was the Spanish Castle

  • David Nolan||

    more money for affordable housing, except when she doesn't.

    Except it wouldn't be low-income housing, so this is more bullshit for the alt-right that Reason increasingly sucks up to. The pieces of this don't for together at all. It fits better at Fox, Breitbart or Infowars, except when it doesn't.

    Shameful.

  • dantheserene||

    Any increase in the supply of housing will reduce the cost of housing across the board, particularly in places like Seattle and San Francisco that severely restrict the availability of housing.

  • perlchpr||

    From the article: No, wait, let me rephrase. From the second fucking paragraph: Now, however, the one self-identified socialist on the Seattle City Council is doing her best to kill a proposed downtown building that would provide 442 apartments and $5 million for the city's affordable housing fund from the project's developer, the Canadian company Onni.

    You're welcome.

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

    So is Hihn now abandoning any pretense of being a libertarian, or do "we libertarians" now support government-mandated price ceilings?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Oh hell this is easy. Get Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates to come out in favor of saving the Showbox.

  • Hunthjof||

    Man if Trump chimed up in support it would be the perfect trifecta.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    "This is not about affordable housing, and I don't think we should accept council members who say this is about affordable housing... it is about the community going up against a big developer"

    Stay tuned for next week's exciting episode in the hit Seattle People's Broadcast television series, The Big Developers vs. Affordable Housing

  • MotörSteve||

    And she "suggested the city might buy and operate The Showbox" HAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Microaggressor||

    Socialists can't seem to come up with any new ideas.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    That's one way of shutting it down.

  • Microaggressor||

    And while the apartments that Onni wants to build would not necessarily be affordable for low-income renters, killing the project will only serve to raise rents further across the city as the tenants who otherwise would have lived in the new building bid up prices for the existing housing units.

    Socialist will never understand this because if they did, they would not be socialists.

    It's as ignorant as the belief that in order to build affordable housing it must be mandated in all new construction. Affordable houses already exist; they're called old houses. New things are typically more expensive than old things, and push the prices of those older things down to affordable levels. Mandates that hinder production of new things prevents the price of old things from falling, making this a counterproductive effort. David Nolan above demonstrates this ignorance.

  • BYODB||


    Last year Sawant voted to rezone the land on which the Showbox sits, which is what made Onni's proposed apartment building possible in the first place. Now she is having second thoughts.


    She's not having second thoughts, she was caught. Big difference.

  • Hunthjof||

    Ahh but the rezoning no doubt increased property value. Well at least in what the city can gauge the property owners in taxes on. I have seen municipalities use this stunt before. They rezone land in "Historic Sensitive" or "Ecologically Sensitive" areas. They rezone in a way that the lands value will increase and they can take more in taxes. After that though they fight tooth and nail any development. They usually do it though through proxy preservation groups. This time the government is actually doing it.

  • Conchfritters||

    She has called housing a "human right"

    Cool - - then just go in the forest and build your own cabin, like Dick Proenneke did up in Alaska at Twin Lakes. Took the dude about 6-8 weeks, and I don't recall he asked anyone for help.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    That's not housing.

    Housing is a minimum of 800 sq ft., 1.5 baths, free broadband, and trendy, EBT-friendly coffee shops within walking distance.

  • 68W58||

    He even filmed it for posterity.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    She picked it as a wedge issue to stop for-profit development. Nothing new here.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The C is for Crank

    When I think of Kshama Sawant, C is for something else...

  • DollarBlazeClub.com||

    Agenda 21 at its finest , as if we all wanna be under paid corporate slaves in an open air prison system.

  • IceTrey||

    Big developer? What other kind builds skyscrapers in major cities?

  • LynchPin1477||

    Corrupt developers

  • Agammamon||

    endorsement of famous Seattle artists such as Macklemore, Guns and Roses bassist Duff McKagan, and Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard.

    Sadly, an indictment of our capitalist system, these people could not possibly raise the funds necessary to preserve this oh, so important building that no one outside of Seattle has ever heard about.

  • Enemy of the State||

    I'll fight to save it with every fiber of my being, but not a nickel of my own money!

    What a great group of Leftists...

  • Enemy of the State||

    Zoning laws are property rights violations.

    You want to "save the Showbox"? Then get the money together and buy it...

  • BILKER||

    more success stories involving the election of socialist/progressives.

  • majil||

    What would expect from a woman whose gash stinks of Mutton and Curry ?

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