City Councilmember Kshama Sawant says Seattle should enact rent stabilization for commercial properties to help small businesses. Her District 3 opponent, Pamela Banks, has other ideas.
Small businesses in Seattle, particularly those on Capitol Hill and in the Central District, are getting some extra political attention ahead of the city’s Nov. 3 election, including a City Council member proposing rent stabilization for commercial properties.
Both candidates running in the council’s new District 3 — Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Pamela Banks, CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle — have unveiled plans this month meant to support small businesses. District 3 includes Capitol Hill, the Central District and surrounding neighborhoods, such as Montlake and Madison Park.
Sawant called for commercial rent stabilization at a City Hall news conference Tuesday as part of a “progressive plan for Seattle small businesses and their workers.”
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She was joined by several people who own or work with small businesses, including David Meinert, who owns Capitol Hill bars and restaurants such as Comet Tavern.
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“We talk about small businesses being the backbone of our economy and the soul of our neighborhoods and then we replace them with Chase banks,” Meinert said.
“We’ve seen that over and over and over again. If we’re serious about them being the backbone of our economy, we need more efforts like this to support them.”
The state law banning cities from regulating rents applies to residential properties only, Sawant said. She said many Seattle businesses have “closed down because of skyrocketing rents,” mentioning Capitol Hill’s Kingfish Cafe and Globe Cafe. Musicians and other artists are losing work due to small businesses shuttering, she added.
Earlier this month, Banks released her own small-business action plan, saying the city should provide loans to small businesses and grants to longtime establishments.
She pointed to a Philadelphia program that lends money to businesses along neighborhood corridors to help them open new locations or expand existing ones, and to a Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund measure now on the ballot in San Francisco. That fund would grant up to $50,000 per year to businesses at least 30 years old and up to $22,500 per year to property owners leasing to those businesses.
Banks said small businesses need assistance to survive economic downturns and property damage. More community policing is part of her small-business plan, as well.
“I was working in Columbia City when there were drive-by shootings and half the stores were boarded up. Nobody was coming down there,” Banks said in an interview Tuesday. “Public safety can turn a neighborhood business district around.”
In response to Sawant’s rent-stabilization proposal, she said: “I don’t know about the legality … I don’t know if that’s going to solve the issue.” The city should seek lower rents for small businesses by offering incentives to property owners, Banks said.
Sawant’s small-business proposals also include 24-hour bus, streetcar and light-rail service; more outreach to homeless people; a portable, city-sponsored pension plan for retail and restaurant workers; and low-interest loans made by a municipal bank.