Seattle City Council Votes Down Rent Control Bill Amid Cost of Living Crisis


One of the main topics at the Aug. 1 Seattle City Council meeting was Council Bill 120606, sponsored by councilmember Kshama Sawant. The bill did not pass. The yeses came from council members Sawant and Morales. The nos came from council members Strauss, Herbold, Lewis, Nelson, Pederson and Juarez.

Council Bill 120606 would “establish maximum annual rent increases that would apply to all rental housing, with several exceptions,” according to the summary of the bill. Sawant described it as “…the bill to create rent control in Seattle without corporate loopholes, effective as soon as the Democrats and Republicans end the state-wide ban on rent control.”

Since Washington State currently prohibits regulating the amount that a landlord can charge in rent, the proposed bill would not go into effect unless RCW 35.21.830 was revoked.

This law states that, “No city or town of any class may enact, maintain, or enforce ordinances or other provisions which regulate the amount of rent to be charged for single-family or multiple-unit residential rental structures or sites other than properties in public ownership […]”

Councilmember Sawant was the only in-person councilmember at City Hall — the rest of the council members attended virtually, except for councilmember Mosqueda, who was absent — much to the disappointment of Sawant and her supporters. 

The most organized and high-population groups present were Workers Strike Back, which was founded by Sawant, and Socialist Alternative, among others. Another organized group was Nickelsville, an organization of homeless people living in tiny house villages in Seattle Central District and Northlake. The Tenants Union of Washington State was also mentioned by Sawant as a supporter of her proposed bill.

The Workers Strike Back group packed the City Council room, as Sawant had hoped. They were passionate and well-prepared, with organized chants, posters and a list of crucial talking points. They also booed the words of the landlords and council members who did not support the bill.

“[B]y opposing renter’s rights like rent control, Democrats are aiding and abetting these [trillion dollar Wall Street] monsters,” said one in-person public commentator.

Everyone who gave a public comment in-person was pro-rent control, with one exception. The majority of public commenters who opposed the rent control bill were online.

Sawant mentioned UAW 4121, the union for student employees at University of Washington, which wrote to her saying that “A shocking 80% of our members are rent-burdened.” Sawant broke away to note that, “These are people who are on their way to get their PhDs or already have their PhDs and are postdocs.” She continued with the UAW 4121 stated information: “[I]n their survey, 22 respondents reported experiencing homelessness at UW.”

“…[W]e don’t have a choice but to build our forces of the working class, and especially doing that independently of the Democratic party.” She also said, “…[T]he Democratic Party is not on our side…I agree with those who chanted ‘dump the elephant, dump the ass, we need a party for the working class’.”

Before voting “no” on the bill, Council President Juarez addressed Sawant, saying, “I’m hoping that you will still work with us and our counterparts in Olympia to address this 42-year-old unjust law, because I do agree with you that it is unjust and I do believe…that localities should have the right to do rent stability.” 

Councilmember Kshama Sawant did not seek reelection for the Seattle City Council primaries on Aug. 1. Instead, she will be devoting her focus to Workers Strike Back, continuing a legacy of activism.