Kshama Sawant Supporters: Demand She End Jim Crow 2.0

A recent Twitter thread makes it clear: It’s long past time for D3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant to be all in on upzoning. Her base should force this position into her top campaign promises. It doesn’t undercut any other position she has and it just might help folks.

Why not demand Sawant make zoning reform as core to her platform as rent control in her D3 City Council re-election bid? The least you—her base—can do is make her address our city’s biggest structural problem: Zoning. Our current zoning system was put in place expressly to racially segregate our city. It worked. It is Jim Crow 2.0, but now with full Supreme Court protection.

Unaffected by Sawant’s housing policies…

Unaffected by Sawant’s housing policies…

Is it really such an affront to demand Sawant tackle zoning as a headline issue? The best case outcomes for her housing policies of: 1. Rent control, and 2. Capping move-in fees only treat the symptoms, not the cause—an adequate supply of affordable units remain illegal. Rent regulations don’t have much of an impact on owned single-family homes either.

Now, if you’re a die-hard Sawant supporter, you’re probably thinking something like “but her opponent Egan Orion is worse!” Cool, let your candidate off the hook for her lackluster zoning reform track record because you don’t like Orion. That whataboutism absolutely helps the folks who can’t afford rent because affordable units remain illegal. Letting Sawant—or anyone, including Orion—slide on zoning is letting a worst form of structural racial oppression to live on here in Seattle.

To borrow a paradigm from former D3 candidate Logan Bowers, imagine if housing were loaves of bread. Let’s assume Seattle needs 100 loaves of bread daily to meet demand. Right now, thanks to ‘bread zoning’ we only allow 75 loaves of bread to be baked daily. Bread prices would be sky-high and guess who’s going hungry? Hint: It ain’t the rich. The Sawant housing strategy applied to this situation would be to locally price cap—despite a statewide ban—the loaves and then tax Amazon to help people afford this artificially expensive bread. Do you think that would work?

No. There are still not enough loaves to feed everyone by law. The poor would remain underfed if not starved. You can’t price cap and subsidize your way into more supply if more supply remains illegal.

Isn’t the far better question this: Why would we ever limit the amount of bread bakers could bake? Well that’s what we do in Seattle with housing and it was implemented expressly to racially segregate our city. Yes, there is far more nuance to it, but at the end of the day the cheapest forms of housing, and the best type for working families, seniors, and the disabled, are duplexes/triplexes/quadplexes—which remain largely illegal to build in Seattle. We don’t have enough of them and people suffer dearly.

Thinking that zoning shouldn’t be a top priority to address homelessness and housing affordability is like thinking atmospheric carbon levels aren’t a primary concern when it comes to climate change. Enough.

Now, before the election, is the time for her base to demand she fight aggressively for upzoning. Why let her be so middling on zoning just because you don’t like Orion? You don’t owe her anything. Besides, the one thing Sawant can do for sure is build a political movement. Why not demand her movement include “radical upzoning?”

When it comes to zoning, Jeff Bezos isn’t ruining Seattle, Sawant’s middling zoning policy is. Make her a zoning hawk. She won’t listen to anyone but y’all, her base. Use your power to save Seattle. Otherwise, she’s just another status quo candidate too timid to upset the power structure and white supremacy at the foundation of our city’s zoning laws.

Nathan Chaffetz