District 3: Kshama Sawant

Historic preservation survey responses by Seattle City Council District 3 candidate Kshama Sawant.

Responses may be lightly edited for clarity and formatting. Please note that Historic Seattle does not endorse candidates for public office.

1. What’s your favorite historic place in Seattle and why do you think it’s important?

My favorite buildings in D3 are the places that have historically been a center for culture and community organizing, places where ordinary people come together to work to change the world. I have organized town halls and other community meetings in Washington Hall, the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, the Central Area Senior Center, All Pilgrims Church, the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and the Miller, Yesler, and Montlake Community Centers. Langston Hughes stands out as a special historic place to me, from being originally a synagogue to later a center for hip hop and African American culture to still a thriving place for cultural events and activism today.

2. How can Seattle accommodate its increase in density while preserving the unique character of its neighborhoods?

We should reject the logic that building housing densely needs to come at the expense of historic buildings, cultural spaces, and green spaces. Seattle has seen years of unprecedented development. There is not a shortage of development, there is a shortage of affordability. The biggest danger to historic buildings is being subject to the same brutal logic of the for-profit market as working people, marginalized communities, and our housing and social services – maximizing profit at the expense of human needs, affordability, culture, and history.

Much of Seattle’s dwindling affordable housing is in older buildings, which is why it’s crucial we fight for a strong universal rent control policy that does not include developer-friendly loopholes that incentivize demolishing affordable housing to build “market rate,” aka luxury, housing. Seattle has the most construction cranes of any city in the country while 25% of luxury units sit vacant. The for-profit market has failed us.

This is why, along with rent control, my campaign is calling for a massive expansion of high quality, permanently affordable, socially owned housing. In order to achieve this we need vacancy taxes, developer impact fees, and to bring back the Amazon Tax.

3. The cultural spaces which many people feel define Seattle are increasingly at risk of redevelopment. Do you feel that it is important to preserve these places, and how can we accomplish this?

Recently, I was proud to stand with musicians, artists, and other music lovers in the ongoing effort to save The Showbox from being redeveloped into luxury condos. Given that City Hall is dominated by corporate politics, initially I was the only councilmember prepared to take on the developers. But the grassroots campaign, collecting over 100,000 signatures, brought pressure to bear on the political establishment and our movement was ultimately successful in temporarily delaying the re-development, through the extension of the boundaries of the Pike Place Market Historical District.

The movement has faced setbacks in the courts, but recently also won the designation of The Showbox as a historical landmark. However, it remains still very much under threat. We need to continue to build our movement, and also to fight to elect more, not fewer, representatives in City Hall who are not afraid to stand up to corporate interests.

4. How would you strengthen the City’s historic preservation program to ensure continued protection of designated Seattle Landmarks and historic districts?

I support expanding Seattle’s historic districts. In the struggle to save The Showbox I supported expanding the boundaries of the Pike Place Market Historic District. I continue to support expanding these boundaries to include the entrance to the Market.

5. What role does historic preservation play in planning and land use beyond designating landmarks and historic districts?

The largest developers in Seattle who dominate the industry look to maximize the profits from their investments. While the profit motive has made Seattle the crane capital of the country for years, it fails to prioritize the human and cultural impacts. It has failed to produce affordable housing, and at the same time has displaced much of the history and culture that has long made Seattle such a wonderful place. Historic preservation has a legal role in designating landmarks and historic districts, and also has a role in opposing displacement and gentrification in the fight for the soul of our city.