Seattle Socialist Politician Favors 'Affordable Housing' – Except When She Doesn’t

P. Gardner Goldsmith | August 22, 2018
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Ahh, the double-standards of many politicians lurking in the backwaters of Seattle, Washington.

In May, I reported on a group of property owners who were struggling to exercise control over their own buildings, folks who wanted to check the criminal backgrounds of potential renters but were being hamstrung by Seattle commissars. In addition to the insultingly titled “Fair Chance Housing Ordinance”, many of Seattle’s political puppeteers soon made news in June by passing and then revoking what was called the “Amazon Tax” on large businesses operating in the city. The argument in favor of it offered by self-avowed socialist City Council member Khsama Sawant was that the tax was needed to fund “affordable housing”, to which, she childishly proclaimed on her own website, people have a right.

Unless, of course, she feels differently.

As Christian Britschgi reports for Reason, Councilperson Sawant is at it again, this time doing an about face on housing as a “right” because, well, the housing provided by a new apartment project, and the extra funds offered by the developer to a special housing fund would… replace a theater she likes.


A few months ago, Sawant was fighting for the "Amazon tax," a literal tax on jobs that would have raised some $75 million annually to fund affordable housing and services for the homeless. Now, however, the one self-identified socialist on the Seattle City Council is doing her best to kill a proposed downtown building that would provide 442 apartments and $5 million for the city's affordable housing fund from the project's developer, the Canadian company Onni.

The proposed development requires tearing down the well-known Showbox Theater, and, due to this, observers can get a free ticket to the political hypocrisy show.

That’s because Sawant, has no problem swinging the levers of “little leviathan” city power any which way she likes:

Last year Sawant voted to rezone the land on which the Showbox sits, which is what made Onni's proposed apartment building possible in the first place. Now she is having second thoughts.


She likes the theater. It’s a place where a lot of well-known and influential acts have performed. Folks as diverse and entertaining as Duke Ellington and Pearl Jam have hit the stage. It’s a legendary cultural institution that, thanks to the incomprehensible zoning power Sawant flexed in 2017, would be wiped out by a place that could bring in more tax loot to Seattle and hand cash to a city fund for “affordable housing” – because zoning laws and regulations like the “Fair Chance Housing Ordinance” already make it very expensive and difficult for people to enter the housing market.

Ahh, the tangled skein of government. The double standard of the “pro-housing” socialist reveal many perennial problems of the polis.

There are taxes, housing regulations, and one that is often missed:


A surprisingly recent imposition in the US, zoning is a way for local politicians to act like feudal lords. Once they get control of how land can be used around a geographical area, politicians hand out favors (through blocking new commercial start-ups, zoning only for commerce at the expense of housing, etc.) to those who help them stay in power. Hence, zoning has been a thorn in the side of people since 1916, where it was first locked down in New York City.

But zoning can inspire local residents to become attached to familiar patterns, or, in the case of the Showbox, cultural institutions. Since the theater location formerly was not zoned for “residential” use, it was used for another purpose, that being live entertainment. And people embraced it.

Now, socialist Sawant has to face her own meddling reflection. She openly states she wants to increase “affordable” housing. She helped pull those manipulative zoning levers to make it possible for a big company to create rental units and decrease demand pressure on housing prices. The company is open to giving the city an additional $5 million for a housing fund…

Yet, this time, “affordable” housing isn’t a right. Entertainment is.

Councilperson Sawant doesn’t understand the meaning of “right”. Rights are inherent in humans and are negative in nature because they’re reciprocal. Hence, you have a right to be left alone by me, and I have a reciprocal right to be left alone by you. This asks for no positive action by either party. It is, as Immanuel Kant said, “universalizable”. No one has a "right" to anything provided by another.

As strange as it might sound to Councilperson Sawant, living space requires investment of money, development of land, and investment of time and labor to create and maintain it. Entertainment space requires the same. No one save the owner has a right to any of that.

Ms. Sawant is encountering the internal contradiction of her own socialist philosophy. And she is unwilling to remove the hands of government to allow “the people” to decide for themselves what they prefer, to decide in the market, with their own money and time, how those resources will be used.

Thanks, Ms. Sawant. Once more, you’ve offered a great lesson in the contradictions and heavy-handed arrogance of socialism. Socialisim is the dog chasing its own tail, but its proponents continually give us great lessons in the difference between politics and freedom.