Renee Holmes moved back to Seattle from California 4 years ago to care for her 88-year-old aunt, Darlene Gordon. “Mother Gordon,” as Renee affectionately calls her, has lived at the Chateau Apartments, at 19th and Fir in the Central District, for the last 30 years.
Chateau is home for Mother Gordon. Her physician is at the nearby Community Doctor clinic. The local grocery store clerks give her a hug when she drops in. She frequents the nearby senior center to see old friends. Her church is two blocks away from home. Living in the Central District allows Mother Gordon to age with dignity.
Now Cadence, a $185-million corporate developer, has announced plans to demolish the affordable Chateau building, displacing the working-class tenants, many of whom are families of color. “Why does she have to leave? Why do we have to be uprooted from our communities? She’s very hurt, and I’m hurt too,” says Renee.
The story of the Chateau tenants is unfortunately the story of Seattle, as big developers displace working-class renters and homeowners in search of mega-profits. All across our city, as construction has boomed, working people, communities of color, students, seniors, LGBTQ people, and disabled community members have been economically evicted, in some cases pushed into homelessness.
The Chateau tenants are organizing and fighting back. Working alongside my City Council office, they are demanding that Cadence find them alternate affordable and accessible homes in the Central District. They recognize the city must grow, but they don’t accept that working families and seniors like themselves be pushed out of Seattle so corporate developers can make double-digit profits.
Earlier this month, the tenants, along with me and the Rev. Angela Ying from Bethany United Church of Christ, presented Cadence executives with a petition signed by 15 of the 19 Chateau households. In their demands, they are calling on Cadence to sign a binding agreement to locate and move each household into comparably sized and comparably priced apartments in the Central District when the company demolishes the Chateau. The tenants are fighting for all of us: They are demanding that in the new building, Cadence go 15% above city requirements for the number of affordable apartments included.
It will take a unified and powerful movement to get Cadence to concede to these demands. And a victory for the tenants will be a victory for our whole movement for housing justice in Seattle.
I urge you to sign the petition to support the Chateau tenants. Please encourage others to do so as well.
Our movement’s recent victories on renters’ rights show that when we fight, we can win. The move-in fee cap and payment plan, the law that bars rent increases in substandard homes, the $29M for affordable housing after defeating the political establishment’s attempt to build a fancy new police precinct - these were possible because ordinary people got organized.
Just like the residents of Chateau, tenants and homeowners throughout the city must fight together to challenge the domination of corporate developers and a system that puts profit over people. And we need to build the movement for rent control, and to tax the ultra-rich like Jeff Bezos and Amazon, so that we can fund a massive expansion of affordable social housing.
Two days after the tenants presented their demands to Cadence, more than 130 people attended a meeting of the City Council’s Renters Rights Committee, which I chair, at the Central District’s New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. There were union members, housing justice activists, immigrant rights activists, faith leaders, senior citizens and young students.
We heard Roselle Johnson explain that the Chateau is close to her parents, who are both elderly. Her father is undergoing cancer treatment and her mom just had knee surgery. “They depend on me. If Cadence is going to move us out, I don’t know where I’m going to live. Who’s going to help my parents?” she asked.
“We organized at the Chateau to stand up for our rights against Cadence. And we’re glad to see so many other tenants, friends, and neighbors supporting our cause,” Johnson told everyone at the meeting.
“This is our city. It’s our neighborhood. And we will fight for the right to live here!” she said.
Please join me in standing with Roselle, Renee, Mother Gordon and the other tenants at the Chateau Apartments. Let’s fight together to make Seattle affordable for all.
~Kshama Sawant Seattle City Councilmember, District 3