Washington State’s eviction machinery may soon be operating at high gear after a brief pandemic-induced hiatus. As that threat looms, the Stay Housed Stay Healthy Coalition is once again asking for an eviction moratorium extension through the end of year, but a statewide extension appears unlikely. On Thursday, the Stay Housed Coalition (of which The Urbanist is a member) sent letters to Seattle, Kenmore, Kirkland, and Burien urging the cities to extend their local eviction bans. The coalition is also distributing an online petition backing the effort.
With Burien and Seattle, those efforts have already borne fruit, with both cities extending their eviction moratoriums through the end of 2021 on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
At the end of June, Governor Jay Inslee issued a “bridge” eviction moratorium extension that loosened restrictions and allowed evictions to move forward save for nonpayment of rent. Some cities added their own eviction bans to strengthen protections. With a weak patchwork of protections in place, King County landlords alone have already filed 596 eviction orders according to the Housing Justice Project’s eviction tracker. That pace will surely pick up unless King County jurisdictions extend their local moratoriums.
Seattle’s new eviction defense law, which allows tenants to affirm a pandemic-related financial hardship to avoid eviction for nonpayment of rent, should blunt the impact in Seattle. However, a full moratorium extension would offer broader protection.
King County has been slow to distribute federal assistance, which means most renters are unlikely to have cleared their debts by the end of the month when the bridge eviction ban expires. That’s why the Stay Housed Coalition is urging cities and the King County Council (which has jurisdiction in unincorporated King County) to extend eviction bans to protect renters. As of September 3rd, King County had distributed only $10.7 million of $145 million in allocated federal rent assistance, but expressed hopes to ramp up distribution to about $6 million per week.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant said she is drafting a letter to Governor Inslee and Mayor Jenny Durkan urging them to extend the moratorium through the year. During Monday’s Council Briefing, she noted that 20% of renters are behind on debt nationally according to new Census data, with the total accumulated debt exceeding $20 billion nationally.
Gene Balk of The Seattle Times reported that 60,000 Seattle area renters are behind on their rent according the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey, but noted that federal and state assistance seems to be making an impact where it has been successfully distributed.
“While 60,000 Seattle-area renters who are behind on their rent is not a small number, it has come down a lot,” Balk wrote. “This must be largely due to the millions in federal funds that have been paid out to renters and landlords to eliminate backrent. Household Pulse surveys from earlier this year show roughly 150,000 Seattle-area renters behind on their rent.”
However, the survey also found renter anxiety trending up with about 136,000 renters or 17% of the total said they were only slightly confident, or not at all confident, that they could pay their rent. That may reflect worries about rents again climbing steadily, a trend which, paired with eviction moratorium’s expiration, could be a powerful one-two punch for many struggling tenants.
Already the Stay Housed Coalition’s letter has received some positive response. Burien City Councilmember Cydney Moore introduced an ordinance extending the city’s eviction moratorium through the end of the year during the Burien City Council meeting on Monday and it passed unanimously. Kenmore Councilmember Corina Pfeil of Kenmore said they intend to consider a moratorium extension at their council meeting on Monday, September 27.
The Seattle City Council may join their neighbors in proposing an extension if Mayor Durkan or Governor Inslee do not do it first. Update: At 11am, Mayor Durkan announced an extension of the eviction moratorium through January 15, 2022 via executive order. The moratorium also applies to nonprofits and small businesses, and it includes a prohibition on utility shutoffs.
“While we face the unexpected rise of the Delta variant, this next extension will ensure every level of government can provide rental assistance and housing support to tenants and landlords, which is critical to stabilizing the community as we reopen and recover,” Mayor Durkan said in a statement. “Seattle continues to show the nation how to protect small businesses and residents by establishing and continuing one of the first in the nation moratoriums on evictions to keep families safe. Our early actions have and continue to keep people safe and housed.”
Author’s note: This article was updated at 11:30am with news of the Seattle and Burien eviction moratorium extensions. Additionally, on September 24th, Governor Inslee extended his bridge eviction ban order through October, a one-month extension.
Stay Housed Stay Healthy Coalition Letter
Dear Mayors and Councilmembers,
We are writing to urge your office to extend local eviction moratorium through the end of 2021. Eviction moratoriums have been the strongest tool to keep community members housed and healthy in the midst of the current global pandemic.
Thank you for your strong leadership in enacting a local eviction moratorium through Sept. 30, thereby protecting renters in your community who are at risk of eviction due to the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Inslee followed your lead; but unfortunately, the State of Washington’s housing stability “bridge” did not provide the full protections that our communities needed. Worse, it is set to expire on Sept. 30th and the Governor has not indicated any willingness to extend it thus far.
With the Supreme Court overturning the CDC’s eviction moratorium and significant delays in King County’s distribution of federal rental assistance funds, it is once again the responsibility of local elected officials to step up on behalf of their constituents. King County’s Department of Community and Human Services, estimating its highest-functioning level of operations, says they will be able to distribute $6 million a week. Given the late start in distributing these funds, that will not reach nearly enough renters before current moratoriums are set to expire. There is no reason that renters should suffer the trauma of eviction due to a global pandemic simply because government relief programs did not function quickly enough.
Preventing evictions is a matter of racial justice. Prior to the pandemic, Black renters were 4.5 times more likely to face evictions than their white counterparts, according to the Losing Home Report. Additionally, people of color were more likely to be evicted over smaller amounts of rent. As the pandemic has hit lower income families, communities of color and LGBTQ+ renters more severely, lifting the moratorium without time for people to get back on their feet would have devastating impacts.
Not knowing how long protections will last has put a strain on renters and their health. Having access to a home is the best way that individuals in our community can stay safe as the pandemic surges yet again. A longer-term extension, lasting through the end of the year, would give renters and landlords time to access rent relief, become current, and get closer to their normal pre-pandemic income. We urge you to take this opportunity to continue your leadership on this issue and do right by your constituents: extend your eviction moratorium through the end of 2021.
60-plus member organizations of the Stay Housed Stay Healthy coalition
Doug Trumm is the executive director of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.