A public housing victory in Seattle

January 5, 2015

On December 16, the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) backed down from a plan to massively raise rents. Called "Stepping Forward," the plan would have required tenants to pay fixed rents rather than a percentage of income, and would have resulted in rent increases of 500 percent for many residents over five years. According to SHA, tenants would be helped to find good jobs so they could afford the higher rents. Actually, most residents with the ability to work have jobs--but they earn an average of $22,000 per year (about $11 an hour at full time).

According to SHA, many residents just aren't trying hard enough to obtain high-paying jobs. Tenants were outraged with this attitude and fought back, with the help of the Seattle Tenants Union, Real Change newspaper, socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant and many community groups. They rallied, demonstrated and testified, making opposition to the plan a major political issue in the city.

SHA was to adopt Stepping Forward in early 2015. Its announcement puts off a decision on the plan to 2016 at the earliest. This is a significant victory for tenants and for everyone who supports housing as a human right. Rebecca Snow Landa, a SHA resident and activist in the struggle against Stepping Forward, talked to Steve Leigh about this victory was won.

WHAT GOT you involved in this struggle?

IN JUNE or July, I got a letter from the SHA saying that my rent would go up to $850 a month or more. This impacted my mental health. I was scared about how to take care of my children. I'm a single mother with two children, ages 5 and 11. I would never make enough to pay $850. The kids are my first priority. I felt despair.

I was invited to a meeting with the Tenants Union. We organized into a strategy committee and a messaging committee to put together a plan. I was interviewed on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. I decided to put myself out there because there was a chance it would help me and other families.

I made a speech at a rally. I went to City Hall and showed up at hearings. At one, we had a very negative and vocal walkout. We marched on SHA headquarters and kept up the pressure.

WHAT WAS your reaction to SHA putting off Stepping Forward?

I WAS stunned! Part of me thought that they weren't listening. SHA just seemed to move forward with their plan.

Seattle Tenants Union marches against a plan to drastically hike rent for low-income tenants
Seattle Tenants Union marches against a plan to drastically hike rent for low-income tenants (Alex Garland)

This is a great Christmas present! I can sleep at night again. Now we have more time to fight and organize. We'll make sure the plan never happens. Up until this struggle, we felt invisible and afraid to speak up--but no more!

WHAT WILL you do to continue the fight?

I'LL DO my part to do outreach to my neighbors and will be out in the street fighting for affordable housing for everyone who needs it. And I will bring my children with me again. It's been a great education for them. I take them to civil rights rallies as well. My son Ahren Martin loves walking in the street. He told me, "It felt good to shout out!"

WHAT HAVE you learned from this fight?

I LEARNED that the socialist saying, "If we fight, we can win," may be true. If we didn't fight, we wouldn't have had a chance.

We have a housing crisis in Seattle. I agree with Kshama Sawant that everyone should have access to public housing. I have a lot of gratitude for the solidarity we received from comrades and allies. People who don't live in public housing, maybe didn't even know people who did, came to our rallies and put their fists in the air alongside us. It was a lifesaver and means the world to me.

We're fighting together to change the system and fight capitalism. Sometimes, I've felt alone and isolated. This taught me that this isn't the case at all. When we fight side by side, we become a louder voice. The government is forced to listen. Together, we're an unstoppable force!

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