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The sweeping consequences of today’s housing market

The Seattle area is home to the world’s two richest people, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. And, as noted by a real estate pro, Seattle has a track record of being one of the best long term real estate investments in the nation. Under the influence of a tech boom led by Amazon, yearly rent increases until very recently have been among the highest in the country.

Evicted from a home, then from a tent

The latest homeless count for Seattle’s King County reported 11,199 people without a residence, far more than the number of shelter beds available. 2,451 of the 11,000-plus were people in families with children and 1,089 were young people on their own. Twenty-seven percent were African-American, who make up only 6 percent of the county’s population.

It was a military-style operation that included a large, ominous detachment of police cars, bulldozers and garbage trucks.

It’s no coincidence that Seattle is also a place where those who have no homes are treated with profound callousness. The city regularly evicts people from their tent encampments with “sweeps” that force them to scramble for other shelter and often destroy their few possessions in the process.

Wielding the broom aggressively

Without any policy announcements, 93 raids took place in Seattle during the first four months of 2019, compared to 11 in the same period in 2018.

One such raid took place on August 7 in Seattle’s University District. It was a military-style operation that included a large, ominous detachment of police cars, bulldozers and garbage trucks spread out for 11 blocks along I-5 freeway ramps. A man and woman stand with their belongings.

Community outrage and concern over sanitation and safety are often cited as the reason for the sweeps. But James, known as “Little Man,” who was one of the people rousted, was not buying this excuse.

He told reporters for the Freedom Socialist who stopped to talk, “It’s not the community that wants us to move. It’s the state and the Seattle Police Department.” The SPD, of course, takes its orders from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the rest of the city establishment.

Just making matters worse

The August 7 sweep displaced 50 people, who showed amazing resiliency in the face of this disruption. A man with a full-time job was trying to figure out if he could get his belongings settled somewhere in time to report for work for a half-day. A social worker was organizing to get her homeless client squared away and to a court hearing on time.

Speaking of where the victims of the raid were supposed to go next, James said, “The social workers are excellent people, but there is nothing they can do for us in the moment. Where’s the housing?”

Another world is possible

Seattle has spent $638 million on new infrastructure specifically to accommodate Amazon’s needs. (See “How Amazon and Boeing Ate Seattle” in the June issue of Works in Progress, reprinted from Freedom Socialist)

Surely the city can spend the amount of money needed to service encampments and provide sanitation, instead of destroying them, as they work to find housing for people in those situations. Seattle should also officially sanction more tent encampments and set aside spaces for people living in their vehicles.

Long-term solutions aren’t rocket science. Rent control; quality public housing; an end to Washington’s regressive tax system. In the absence of such positive measures homeowners and renters alike may be forced out of Seattle or into homelessness.

It’s a matter of priorities. The future stability and liveability of our community depends on the city doing right by workers and the poor instead of catering to corporations and the rich.

Andrea Bauer organizes with the national Freedom Socialist Party. She was arrested defending the original Nickelsville camp in 2008.

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