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Monday, October 18, 2021

Black Clergy, Sawant Call For More Affordable Housing

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, second from left, along with local African American clergy members are asking the city for new investments in housing. Courtesy photo.

By Aaron Allen

The Seattle Medium

Last Thursday, government officials, pastors and community leaders held a press conference in front of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church to address the dire need for change in the way the City of Seattle, King County and the State of Washington are handling issues of homelessness, affordable housing and police policy.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee,led an emotional press conference to confront the establishment and laid out a plan to combat the lack of resources and unwillingness of business to help the less fortunate.

Sawant along with community leaders and pastors from several different community churches came together as they unveiled their demands for the city commit to building 1,000 new affordable homes over three years for those displaced from the Central District after decades of gentrification.

The proposal, to be funded by a progressive tax on big businesses such as Amazon, aims to raise at least $500 million per year over a 10-year period.  

Rev. Carey Anderson, pastor of Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church, emphasized the importance of not only having the African American community involved in the battle against policing, but also in housing and the people’s obligation to care for one another not only in dire times but as general principle.

“Simply put, if Black Lives Matter, then affordable housing for Black families in the Central Area should matter,” said Rev. Anderson, “It was Martin Luther King who said ‘Life’s most important question is – what are you doing for others?’ We are simply asking if we really believe in not the rhetoric, not the slogans, but the fact that Black Lives Matter, then do what’s right, for what’s right.”

A letter outlining their demands sent to the city government, calls for the following:

• 1,000 new affordable homes in the Central Area, especially for historic residents and households displaced over the years by racist gentrification;

• 5,000 new units of permanent supportive housing;

• More tiny house villages to house 2,000 currently-unsheltered people;

• Apprenticeship and training opportunities with a focus on youth of color; and,

• $500 million in bonds for low-income housing construction.

New Hope Missionary Baptist Church pastor Rev. Robert Jeffrey, Sr. called on wealthy people to invest their resources to help improve our community.

“I would like to talk to the rich and powerful in Seattle,” said Rev. Jeffrey.“You cannot sit on mountains of money, and hide behind a system that you say protects you, while the world goes to hell in a handbasket around you.”

Other notable leaders speaking at the press conference included Rev. Lawrence Willis from Truevine of Holiness Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Angela Ying from Bethany United Church of Christ, and Aisaya Corbray from Low Income Housing Institute.

The letter also calls on the city to end the cruel sweeps of homeless encampments; and to adopt an ordinance to be introduced by Councilmember Sawant to allow churches to increase density on church properties to build more low-income housing; demilitarize the police department and strengthen public oversight.

“I’m proud to stand here today with these clergy and the Low Income Housing Institute to demand that the city and its political establishment acknowledge the historic wrongs inflicted on this community, and commit to taking the concrete steps, not words,” Sawant said.  “My socialist council office wholeheartedly supports all of the nine demands in their letter, just as I wholeheartedly support the demands of the King County Equity Now Coalition.”

“Members of the political establishment who say Black Lives Matter need to put action behind their tweets and sloganeering, and join with me in supporting the African-American faith leaders’ demands, without reservation adopt the Tax Amazon legislation so we can build these homes and reverse racist gentrification,” added Sawant.

The Tax Amazon legislation is co-sponsored by Sawant and Seattle City Councilmember Tammy J. Morales.

Sawant in her speech made a plea to the community at-large but more important to the financial establishment of the region.

“Our Amazon tax is the bare minimum of what’s needed,” Sawant concluded. “We have to build a powerful movement to fight for a tax that will fund the social housing that working people in the Central Area and throughout the city need. I urge the City Council to join our community.”

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