Socialist Alternative Pittsburgh hosts a fundraiser dance party for Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant 

By October 17, 2019 5 Comments

Kshama Sawant

By Margaret Welsh
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor

On Saturday, Oct. 19, Socialist Alternative Pittsburgh hosts Rock & Roll for Rent Control, a solidarity-raising dance party that also serves as a fundraiser for Kshama Sawant, a Seattle city council person who is running for re-election.

What does a City Council race on the other side of the country have to do with Pittsburghers concerned with rising housing costs? Plenty, says Socialist Alternative member James Graham, who calls this race “one of the most important in the country this year.”

In 2014, Sawant – a proud socialist – garnered national attention as a major force in pushing through the $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle, the first city in the country to do so. 

If elected,” Graham writes in an email, “she’ll push for rent control in Seattle in the same way she did for $15, by helping build a mass movement of ordinary people. Housing prices are rising rapidly all across the country, including right here in Pittsburgh where it’s increasingly difficult for ordinary people to make ends meet. A victory on rent control in a major city Seattle would set a critical national precedent, just like $15 did.”

Rent control can be enacted in a variety of ways, such as capping rents or making sure that they’re matched to inflation. In Seattle, Sawant proposed taxing Amazon, which is based in that city, to fund public housing, making for herself a very rich enemy. Just this week, Amazon donated $1.05 million to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, which represents Seattle businesses, and opposes Sawant’s re-election.

“This is no ordinary City Council race in many ways, but nowhere is it starker than in the massive amount of money being spent by corporate PACs,” says Graham. “The numbers dwarf anything that is typical in any city large or small. This is truly a race that is defined as Amazon vs. working people, and it poses the question of who controls our cities – Jeff Bezos and other billionaires, or us?”

As corporate landlords hold a bigger share of rental properties than ever, and as those properties are geared more and more to the wealthy, it’s unsurprising that rent control has some powerful opponents. In a Sept. 18, 2019 editorial that ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bloomberg Opinion columnist Noah Smith wrote that rent control could discourage new building projects, and worsen the housing crisis, one of the common argument against such legislation. But so far, he admitted, such laws in California and Oregon “don’t look restrictive enough to cause a collapse in construction, but it’s possible that other states may become overzealous and set limits that end up hurting local markets.” 

That caveat (maybe accidently) lines up with the findings of Amee Chew and Katie Goldstein, who wrote about rent control for Jacobin in June of this year:

 “Empirical evidence shows that rent control does not hurt housing construction. In fact, the two can go hand-in-hand. Firstly, in the US rent controls don’t cover new construction anyway. But also, the housing market is more complicated than Econ 101 theory — overall market conditions and zoning have a far greater influence on construction. And whereas housing debates focus largely on private construction, there’s also the option of pairing rent control with massive public construction to turn housing shortages into surpluses by building public and social housing, at a far greater speed than the private market.”

As the Facebook event page for Rock & Roll for Rent Control puts it, rent control legislation “would be a win for working people facing skyrocketing housing costs throughout the country. In Pittsburgh over the last decade, we have seen the large-scale gentrification of neighborhoods like East Liberty, Lawrenceville, and Garfield, the destruction of public housing like Penn Plaza, and many long-time residents being displaced from the city. In some neighborhoods, such as the North Side, rent has increased by nearly 10% from last year alone! Rent control, while not the be-all-end-all solution to housing insecurity, would be an important step in the right direction.”

Sawant takes no money from corporate donors, and her campaign is funded completely by supporter donations, most of which are in the $10-30 range. 

As for Saturday’s event, bring your own favorite record, or request your favorites, and get ready to dance. Drinks and snacks will be available for a small donation. There will be an opportunity to donate to Sawant’s campaign, but just showing up is an act of solidarity. 

“We’re hoping to raise some money to be able to push back against Amazon’s millions, but we also want to get people connected to and involved in the movements we have going on locally,” says Graham. “As socialists, we’re active in a range of different struggles against all forms of exploitation and oppression. We believe in the power of mass movements and the ability of working and oppressed people to join together and win real victories.” 



  • peepeepoopoo says:

    now imagine if there was a local city council candidate fighting for rent control and other socialist policies! socialist alternative would be doing so much to help them!!! oh wait…..

  • What’s better than rent control? A tax on vacant lots and unoccupied buildings. While rent control makes it less attractive to supply accommodation, a vacant-property tax makes it less attractive NOT to!  A vacant-property tax of $X/week makes it $X/week more expensive to fail to get a tenant, and thereby REDUCES, by $X/week, the minimum rent that will persuade the owner to accept a tenant.

    Such a tax, although sometimes called a “vacancy tax”, is not limited to what real-estate agents call “vacancies” — that is, properties available for rent. It also applies to vacant lots and other properties that are not on the rental market, and is designed to push them onto the market and get them tenanted.

    A vacant-property tax is intended to be avoided; if it’s properly designed, nobody actually has to pay it. And the *avoidance* of it would initiate economic activity, which would expand the bases of other taxes, allowing their rates to be reduced, so that the rest of us would pay LESS tax!

  • CityOfVagrants says:

    Could you do us all in Seattle a favor and stay out of our elections? If you want to elect some batshit crazy lady you are free to, but please spare us.

  • Hank says:

    I live in Seattle. She isn’t batshit crazy. She is polarizing, And she has city council scared to confront her because she brings in donations from around the country. That gives her an unfair advantage.
    If you donated, you are supporting a capitalist, just like the rest of us.

  • VoteOutSawant says:

    You all have zero idea of what is happening out here in *my* neighborhood and really you should keep out of what has nothing at all to do with you….. We don’t need another term for a do nothing and let the city rot council member. You want to give her money and support? Well we’d be more than happy to ship her out to you, along with all of the drug addicts and mentally ill that she’s all for enabling to live on our streets, rather than treating their problems.

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