The Covid-19 pandemic has thrust the world into uncertain times. In the United States, the coronavirus has now claimed the lives of over 100,000 people. This devastating public health crisis has affected our region in particular. The first death linked to Covid infection happened in King County. Washington was the worst infection hotspot in the country until New York overtook us. Even as the death toll continues to climb, millions have lost their jobs as unemployment reaches unprecedented rates.
Stemming the tide of evictions
Legislators at all levels of government have scrambled to come up with a patchwork of temporary measures that are intended to offset the tremendous strain coronavirus has placed on our communities, neighborhoods, and families. Earlier this month, for example, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance that extends the eviction moratorium enacted by Governor Jay Inslee through the end of the year.
Unfortunately, we still have not yet seen substantial movement from the Governor’s office on the prospect of a rent and mortgage moratorium, meaning tenants still face the daunting prospect of paying an accumulated rent balance at the end of the year. Despite this frustrating inaction, the City Council’s extension on the eviction moratorium will genuinely help many Seattleites who are struggling to make ends meet from losing housing, especially those who have lost jobs and are now facing increasingly expensive childcare costs.
It remains to be seen whether the federal government will pass a housing and rent relief package, though it seems unlikely that the Washington Legislature, with its tendency to rush to budget cuts rather than pursue progressive revenue streams, will pass a corresponding state-level relief package either. Moreover, we still do not know when a special legislative session to address the state budget and the impacts of Covid will be convened.
A housing crisis long in the making
Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of our daily lives and our long-term goals. The housing crisis in Seattle has not been any different. If anything, Covid-19 has exposed just how much further we have to go in order to address the housing crisis and how urgently any and all solutions must be pursued.
While many have benefited from Seattle and King County’s tremendous and rapid growth in the past several years, many more have been priced out and subsequently displaced from their homes and communities. For those already living in the margins, the city has become increasingly expensive to live and work in, let alone lay roots down.
In 2018, the PSRC calculated since 2010, job growth has increased by 21% and our population has grown by about 12%. Meanwhile, the availability of housing has not grown at a proportional or adequate rate, with the housing stock only having grown by about 8%. These discrepancies are only amplified due to the effects of Covid. Even before the coronavirus arrived in the United States, we needed to “up” housing production significantly to meet the needs of our community. Reports commissioned by King County indicate that our region has to build 44,000 new affordable homes every five years to adequately address the growing need for affordable housing.