Immigrant who drove up prices for housing now runs for office on a rent control platform

Kshama Sawant is running for re-election to the Seattle City Council. One of her campaign posters from August:

From her site:

Seattle needs rent control, citywide and without corporate loopholes, to stop skyrocketing rents. We need to build tens of thousands of units of social housing, paid for by taxing Amazon and big business, to provide a public alternative to the broken private development system. … Meanwhile, skyrocketing housing costs and weak tenant rights laws have combined to lead to an epidemic of evictions. … As a member of Socialist Alternative, I wear the badge of socialist with honor, and I’m excited to see candidates identifying as socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez winning elections across the country.

What has driven up the cost of housing in Seattle? Maybe it was Sawant herself! Wikipedia says that she migrated to Seattle from India via a marriage to a programmer at Microsoft. “New milestone in King County: Immigrant population tops 500,000” (Seattle Times): “Since the start of the decade [2010], King County has had the third biggest increase in foreign-born residents among all U.S. counties. … That means that nearly one in four inhabitants of the county (24 percent) were born outside the United States, significantly higher than the national average of 14 percent.”

21 thoughts on “Immigrant who drove up prices for housing now runs for office on a rent control platform

    • Did you find any examples of social housing that was successful in reducing poverty or crime in your diligent research?

  1. I am obsessed with Rent Control. Just as much as Phil is obsessed with divorce. Since I own many rent controlled apartment houses in socialist Santa Monica I can never really escape it. I could go on and on about how horrible it is but most people already know this. After being a total failure in Santa Monica and San Francisco for 30 years our governor gruesome has just extended this problem to the whole state! There may be one more person that has suffered as much as I have under these rent control schemes. His name is Donald Trump. Thank goodness he is president and hopefully he will stop the madness.

    • Toucan- If only you had the total and complete freedom to sell your properties which are located in an undesirable(to you) city, take that money and invest wherever and in whatever you please. Guess Santa Monica isn’t all that bad, huh?

    • So you crave federal control of private property ownership and housing markets? Sounds pretty socialist to me!

    • @Senorpablo,

      The number one rule of owning a property, be it to live in it as home or for investment, is to never sell unless if the property is in a shit-hole neighborhood for which you should never have bought it in the first place (if you did, then you are a bad investor / buyer to start with).

  2. How about moving the immigrants out of the city? To low cost “learning communities”? If you consolidated the social service dollars spent in dozens of agencies then you could build these. We teach you to be an “adult”. We give you a job, be it laying bricks for new apartments, installing plumbing, electricity, babysitting services, whatever. Most of these people grew up without discipline and parents. People have to be taught to work. I believe in the mythology of Jamestown where a bunch of people were sitting on their asses doing nothing and the leader of the colony started only giving food to those who worked. Work or starve. This is a “modern Amish” community. Allow electricity but as little media as possible. Leaders are strong people who can lead. Maybe ex-military. It’s “boot camp” for the homeless. Sorry there are too many people in this country sitting on their asses and whining about their life, and my plumber, electrician, auto mechanic (pretty much any skilled labor) makes almost as much as I do. Or their companies are billing that. Time to put America to work. Media (TV, Youtube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) and sugar are what should be taxed. Both create slow, fat, dumb people. I exclude academia from media.

    • Good ideas on developing work ethic… except that you had to bundle it with a knock on immigrants. Is it your belief that parents in poorer countries just toss their children into the street as soon as they can walk? And that those kids, growing up parentless, somehow never learned to work to survive?

      Seems like they’d have to work infinitely harder (probably in crop fields) than any US-born kid that is legally barred from doing virtually any work until they are early teens, barred from doing any remotely hazardous work (e.g kitchen work) until their mid or late teens, and freed from any actual need to work until they are 18 by state support systems. US-born kids of even slightly white collar parents grow up with the expectation that “work” will be done sitting down indoors with climate control and will still pay enough to have a house and at least minor luxuries. (I speak for myself here, I’m a spoiled suburban bred white guy and I would fail at real work). Ironically, US-born kids of even less well-off parents may likely learn how to live off disability and welfare programs without ever working at all. Especially in economically dead rural areas that clearly can’t provide jobs for everyone. Immigrants don’t come from any of that. They’re grateful to lay shingle on a 100 degree roof all summer as long as they’re in the US and so they work hard so they get to keep doing it.

      The people that need relocation to labor-training villages and hard life skills lessons are those of us that were born here.

  3. FriscoTX: I am not sure that hard-working immigrants would help with the “skyrocketing housing costs” that Ms. Sawant cited in her campaign. Places that are densely populated with hard-working people also have high housing costs.

    (To your separate point about Americans relying on welfare, I don’t think this is a result of a lack of “learning” as you put it. It is not rational for an American with a below-median earning capability to work, since collecting welfare leads to a higher spending power. See https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/the_work_versus_welfare_trade-off_2013_wp.pdf )

    • > It is not rational for an American with a below-median earning capability to work, since collecting welfare leads to a higher spending power

      Yep. Which raises the median spending power, raising the basis of what we understand to be poor, raising our threshold for who needs help, raising the amount of welfare we issue, and full circle to raising the minimum income at which it is rational to work.

  4. What has driven up the cost of housing in Seattle? Maybe it was Sawant herself! Wikipedia says that she migrated to Seattle from India via a marriage to a programmer at Microsoft.

    Seattle probably has many residents who moved there from other parts of the the US. Presumably each of them deserves as much blame as Ms. Sawant. Then again, there are also residents who were born in Seattle and have lived there their entire lives. They’re also part of the problem.

  5. What drives rent high is government regulation, plain and simple.

    Want to start a new construction to build a 3 or more units in a building? Or remodel an existing building so it is now 3 or more units? Good luck dealing with red tapes and regulations. To get you started, you will be required to install sprinklers system and addressable fire alarm system that’s hooked up with a fire protection service (for those who don’t know, this is a commercial grade system used in office buildings). The cost of just the sprinkler system, not the fire alarm, will kill you as such you will demand a high rent once you are ready to rent. And this is just the start.

    I know this, I have been there.

    Yes, I get it, you want to protect lives. But how many innocent lives are lost a year due to fire vs. due to car accident?

    • “how many innocent lives are lost a year due to fire vs. due to car accident?”

      Maybe correlated with high standards of sprinkler systems, fire barriers and egress requirements?

      What is the minimum unit requirement that should have standards in your view?

    • @Slumlord,

      > What is the minimum unit requirement that should have standards in your view?

      All homes be it 1 unit or more be it the 1 unit is for rental or personal living. Are we done debating this topic?

      > Maybe correlated with high standards of sprinkler systems, fire barriers and egress requirements?

      Sprinkler systems do not save lives, they prevent a total burn down of a property. What saves lives is up-to-code and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and up-to-code and properly maintained egress.

    • It is interesting how few private homes include sprinklers.

      https://www.bobvila.com/articles/465-residential-sprinkler-systems/

      says that it is only $1.25/sf to put in a sprinkler system when a house is being built, i.e., about $3,000 for a typical house. Even retrofit is not super expensive, about $20,000 for an already-built house.

      Americans are obsessed with safety. Assuming sprinklers do reduce the risk of death, why wouldn’t an American prefer to drive a (statistically safer) minivan rather than a pavement-melting SUV and use the savings to have a sprinkler in his or her McMansion?

    • (Separately, I think it is primarily zoning and the years of planning and politician payoffs that are required to get anything approved that drive up the cost, not technical requirements for the buildings. Remember that it was so bad in NYC that Donald Trump had to identify as a Democrat (and pay off Democrats) for decades!)

    • @Phil,

      That article is so misleading on the cost be it for new construction or existing.

      Just the material cost of the sprinkler system is over $3,000 for a 3,000 sq home. The fire alarm box, horns and lights alone will cost over $5,000. Then there is labor cost which from the article “who adds that a two-story, 3,000-square-foot installation might take a week to ten days to complete” — thus this is a 7 day project at least at $500 easily a day. And if that’s not enough, there is the engineering cost to design and draft the system.

      About 4 months ago, I just finished installing a sprinkler system and fire alarm on a remodeling project I just did for a rental apartment. The city required me to add sprinklers and fire alarm to the 4 family unit that was built in 1910. The cost was almost $47,000.

    • Thanks, George. With the real prices it makes sense!

      (Given that it costs $500-1,000 to get even the most minor plumbing issue fixed here in Massachusetts, or $400-600 to get an appliance repaired, it makes sense that these sprinkler systems are not actually cheap!)

    • George, sorry I’m confused why argument you’re making.

      You agree that all homes should have minimum standards of fire protection controls and that at least some of them are effective.

      You agree you have enough capital to to enact these features, and your investment is still profitable.

      So what are you complaining about? You want people to cry a river your capital isn’t making you enough of a profit over the cost of lives you admit would be lost?

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