Today, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a 30-day extension of Seattle’s eviction moratorium, which covers residences and small business and non-profit commercial tenants. The previous executive order under Mayor Jenny Durkan was set to expire on January 15th, which makes the new expiration date February 14th under Harrell’s order.
“As this rapid surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant drives further pandemic uncertainty, keeping vulnerable people in their homes must be the immediate focus,” Mayor Harrell said in a statement. “Over the next month, we will continue to track changing conditions and seek improved metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the moratorium and aligned policies. Our actions will continue to be driven by data and our values, focused on preventing a rise in homelessness and supporting the tenants and small landlords most in need.”
Governor Jay Inslee let his bridge extension of statewide eviction moratorium lapse on October 31st, but Seattle and a few neighboring cities like Burien and Kenmore have issued a string of city extensions. In much of the state, however, evictions have resumed. The Housing Justice Project has tallied 832 court-sanctioned evictions in King County since the pandemic began, with a marked increase after the governor began dismantling his moratorium.
The Stay Housed Stay Healthy Coalition (which included more than 40 local organizations including The Urbanist) has urged officials to extend their eviction moratoria until the end of the public health emergency and done so at both the state and local level. In a letter to Mayor Harrell, the coalition noted the moratorium has prevented people falling into homelessness and dying due to their lack of shelter.
“Last year in King County at least 183 homeless people died outside, in public, or by violence. This was far and away a record-breaking number of outdoor, public, violent deaths,” the letter said. “If the eviction moratorium is lifted now, many more would be at risk of homelessness, illness and death.”
The coalition argued against the uncertainty of short extensions.
“Not knowing how long protections will last has put a strain on renters and their health. While the moratoriums have been life saving, it will benefit everyone to enact a longer-term extension so that renters can make a financial recovery plan for themselves and their family without fearing that they could be pushed into homelessness in just a few months,” the letter continued. “A longer-term extension, lasting through the end of the public health emergency would give renters and landlords time to access rent relief, become current, and get closer to their normal pre-pandemic incomes.”
The coalition augmented the letter with an online petition by coalition member Seattle Transit Riders Union (TRU) that garnered more than 400 signatures. TRU credited that pressure with securing the extension.
“While this isn’t nearly long enough, it gives at-risk tenants a breather and buys #StayHousedStayHealthy time to keep organizing to ensure no one is evicted into homelessness during this deadly pandemic,” said TRU in a tweet. “This wouldn’t have happened without our collective pressure. Thank you!”
While grateful, tenant advocates are seeking a longer extension.
“30 days is not enough. Renters need a lot more legal support and more time to get relief to renters,” said Laura Loe, executive director of Share The Cities, a coalition member. “The emergency is not going to be over in 30 days.”
Burien to weigh eviction moratorium extension on Thursday
With the reprieve in Seattle, TRU and the rest of the coalition have pivoted to pushing for an eviction moratorium extension in Burien. The Burien City Council is holding a special meeting on Thursday to consider an extension. They are taking public coment at the meeting, but the coalition is pushing its supporters to email councilmembers at email@example.com.
The Housing Justice Project of the King County Bar Association — a Stay Housed member and the primary provider of tenant legal aid in the county — said that eviction moratoriums are effective, noting almost half of Burien residents are renters. “Since the state moratorium expired on June 30, 2021, Burien has only had 11 evictions through December,” said Tram Tran-Larson of the Housing Justice Project.
The coalition has warned that King County’s federal-funded Eviction Protection and Rental Assistance Program (EPRAP) is running out of funding and has been slow in disbursing what funds it has, which is putting tenants at risk. EPRAP is not currently accepting more applicants.
“Tenants outside of Burien, Kenmore, and Seattle (the other two cities with their own moratorium) are being evicted for non-payment of rent, despite having applied for rental assistance and waiting for their name to be called,” Tran-Larson said in an email.
Harrell plans data dive on evictions
Mayor Harrell pledged a data gathering effort to inform his decision next month about a further extension and address the situation broadly. In his new executive order, he said he’s instructing “departments to take immediate action in limiting the pandemic’s future negative impact on Seattle residents and collecting relevant data on the effectiveness of the moratorium.”
“In this Executive Order, I am directing City departments to use the next 30 days to urgently and comprehensively collect and analyze needed data around the pandemic’s effect on the housing crisis and impact of the eviction moratorium, improve accessibility and delivery of assistance resources, and prepare targeted outreach to tenants most at-risk of eviction,” Mayor Harrell said in a statement.
The mayor’s press release lists the following tasks:
- “Forming an interdepartmental team to streamline acquisition and distribution of support funds, enhance data collection on the impact of the pandemic and eviction moratorium on tenants and small landlords, develop a plan for an online portal better connecting impacted tenants and small landlords to resources, and assess unintended consequences driven by the moratorium in certain situations where domestic violence, property damage, or other negative outcomes have occurred;”
- “Developing an outreach and education plan for Seattle residents at risk of eviction, informing them of their rights should the moratorium cease and educating tenants about the different types of eviction related communications they might receive;”
- “Creating an advisory group for the mayor composed of tenant advocates and small landlords;”
- “Thoroughly evaluating Seattle’s intergovernmental coordination in receiving and distributing financial assistance to tenants and small landlords;”
- “Reviewing aggregate effect of utility relief policies and utility shut off suspension, including long-term impact on ratepayers;”
- “Identifying and swiftly delivering outstanding utility assistance resources to tenants and small landlords.”
The mayor’s extension also directs Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities to continue to maintain flexible payment plan policies and halt utility shut offs for 90 days until April 15th. The order will continue to suspend booting of vehicles for unpaid parking tickets until further notice and “extends for 90 days temporary parking zones for hospital and human services staff.”
Additionally, the mayor noted that his residential eviction “is supplemented by Ordinance 126075, passed by the City Council last year along with a suite of other tenant protections.” That “eviction defense” package was spearheaded by Councilmember Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant.
“Immediately taking effect upon the expiration of Mayor Harrell’s order, the ordinance provides an additional six months of protection against eviction for tenants who have suffered a financial hardship and are unable to pay rent,” the press release noted.
While the eviction defense bill will protect tenants who assert their rights in court and can prove a Covid-related financial hardship, a full eviction moratorium is a broader protection that doesn’t require that extra hurdle. Likewise, the right to counsel for tenants facing eviction guaranteed by both state and more stringent Seattle City Council legislation will help, but gaps remain.
In an excellent piece last week in The Stranger, Hannah Krieg highlighted how stretched Housing Justice Project is too keep up with the workload of incoming eviction cases and the possibility of “shadow courts” being set up to plow through all the cases and potentially circumvent right-to-counsel protections.
In King County, the main provider of attorneys for evictions under the state’s new right-to-counsel law is the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project (HJP).
“We are pretty overwhelmed already,” said Edmund Witter, managing attorney of the King County Bar Association’s HJP. “We’re really at capacity already, and it hasn’t even gotten up to what it should be, or what we expect it to be.”
Just last weekend, Witter said his office received 130 calls from people who had the beginnings of an eviction case. To prevent a tidal wave of eviction cases from overwhelming the limited counsel resources, the Legislature established dispute resolution centers to handle eviction outside of the courtroom. But, since renters do not have a right-to-counsel at dispute resolution centers, Witter said that what he called a “shadow court system” continues the power imbalance the Legislature sought to fix with the legislation: Renters probably can’t afford an attorney, but a landlord probably can, so landlords would win out more often.
Witter said he’s not worried about the overwhelming case volume – he’s worried about the people who don’t make contact with the HJP and end up evicted when the moratorium ends. Just under half of tenants don’t show up to their hearing, he said. If a renter does not go to court, then they cannot use the city council’s slew of eviction defenses to their advantage.
Proud Boys ruse
Harrell’s press conference was also dedicated to his response to the news that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) orchestrated a ruse claiming armed Proud Boys were roving through the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, which escalated tensions at an already tense moment in June 2020 after police officers abandoned East Precinct. The SPD appears to have covered up the ruse from the public. Most questions from the press were focused on that issue, and we’ll cover that news in a separate article.
Stay Housed Stay Healthy Letter to Mayor Harrell
January 6, 2022
Dear Mayor Bruce Harrell,
We are writing to urge you to extend the eviction moratorium — which is currently set to end January 15 for renters, non-profits, and small businesses — through the end of the public health emergency.
The Omicron surge has filled hospitals to capacity, straining Seattle’s health care system. It is disrupting schools and workplaces, causing stress and confusion. Federal child tax credit payments just ended, adding to the financial burden for many households. Evictions often lead to homelessness, especially with occupancy rates at historic highs, and Seattle’s homelessness response system is already overwhelmed.
Many tenants lack the digital skills to properly attend virtual hearings. Listening to current King County Court proceedings of evictions that are moving forward, it’s clear that virtual court is failing many tenants. With court still closed to in-person hearings, lifting the eviction moratorium now would overwhelm the system and strain legal aid resources even further. For all these reasons, now is not the time to end the protections offered by Seattle’s eviction moratorium. We ask you to demonstrate leadership that will save lives and cause other communities to follow this compassionate example.
While King County reports that 82% of Seattle residents ages five and up are vaccinated, only 42% have received their booster; access to boosters and testing are still challenging for many. The Omicron variant is highly transmissible among the vaccinated but not boosted individuals, which is why the region is experiencing its largest spike in cases yet despite a high vaccination rate.
It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting impacts, so it’s essential we enact policy with a long-term outlook. We have learned through the course of this devastating pandemic that health and housing are inextricably linked, and that to keep our communities healthy, it’s essential we keep them housed. With the latest surge, we’ve seen the impact to our economy and businesses as they struggle to have staff that are healthy enough to work. This was especially desperate with the most recent snow emergency, leading Mayor Durkan to implement a bonus for workers in our burdened shelter systems. The urgency of this crisis isn’t behind us and is still here now.
As we make racial equity a core goal in our city, we must address the systemic harms that impact Black, Indigenous, and brown communities first and worst. We know that 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.
Throughout the past year an estimated 175,000 Washington residents fell behind on their rent. Renters have scrambled to become current — whether by seeking support from friends and loved ones, or using credit cards to pay, or turning to several organizations each month to cobble together their total payment due. King County implemented an emergency prevention rental assistance program (EPRAP), but recently it was closed without warning, making it hard for tenants to keep track of the EPRAP program and their ability to achieve housing stability. It’s essential we keep renters housed so they can access this assistance as it becomes available.
Last year in King County at least 183 homeless people died outside, in public, or by violence. This was far and away a record-breaking number of outdoor, public, violent deaths. If the eviction moratorium is lifted now, many more would be at risk of homelessness, illness and death.
Not knowing how long protections will last has put a strain on renters and their health. While the moratoriums have been life saving, it will benefit everyone to enact a longer-term extension so that renters can make a financial recovery plan for themselves and their family without fearing that they could be pushed into homelessness in just a few months.
A longer-term extension, lasting through the end of the public health emergency would give renters and landlords time to access rent relief, become current, and get closer to their normal pre-pandemic incomes.
You have expressed a desire to balance the needs of vulnerable landlords with those of vulnerable tenants. We believe the way to do that is not through loopholes to the eviction moratorium, but through programs like EPRAP that compensate landlords for lost income. We should not drive more tenants into homelessness in the name of the landlord bottom line. We encourage local leaders to increase funding for eviction protection programs rather than carve up the moratorium with loopholes and exceptions.
It is especially critical since the state of Washington has not extended the necessary protections for our communities, which is why we are urging you to extend the eviction moratorium through the end of the public health emergency.
- 350 Seattle
- 43rd District Democrats
- Black Action Coalition
- Byrd Barr Place
- Congolese Integration Network(CIN)
- El Centro de la Raza
- Faith Action Network
- House Our Neighbors!
- Housing Justice Project
- Interim CDA
- King County Young Democrats
- Lake City Taskforce on Homelessness
- LGBTQ Allyship
- North Helpline
- Northshore Social Justice Action Group
- Real Change
- Resident Action Project
- Seattle DSA Housing Justice Workgroup
- Share The Cities Action Fund
- Socialist Alternative Seattle
- Solid Ground
- Tenant Law Center
- Tenants Union of Washington State
- The Urbanist
- Transit Riders Union
- UAW 4121
- Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (ULMS)
- Washington Build Back Black Alliance (WBBA)
- Washington Low Income Housing Alliance
- Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility
- WA Working Families Party
The piece has been updated with the section on shadow courts and a stretched eviction court system.
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.