United Way of King County Unveils Rental Assistance Program for Those Impacted by COVID-19

by Carolyn Bick

Both documented and undocumented renters worried about their April rent payments will be able to breathe a little easier for at least a month, thanks to the United Way of King County’s emergency rental assistance program.

In partnership with the City of Seattle and King County, the program is an expansion of the existing United Way of King County (UWKC) Home Base Program, which prevented 900 people from being evicted last year, before the crisis hit. Joined by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine, UWKC’s President and CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. announced at an April 10 press conference that the $5 million fund is meant for those who have lost income security, due to the current coronavirus pandemic, and who live at 50 percent or lower of the area median income.

The program is funded by both the private and public sectors, including area industry behemoths Microsoft and Amazon. While McHenry said they expect the program to stabilize around 2,000 King County residents, he also said he expects the fund to be quickly depleted, and that the grants are meant to be one-time stabilization measures.

“We are hoping that others will continue to donate, and we’ll maybe get some money from our federal partners. What we have is significant, but I am concerned it will go very fast. So we are encouraging those who are able to take time to donate in support of rental assistance,” McHenry said.

Though the state and the county have yet to roll out demographics data concerning deaths and infections around COVID-19, McHenry said that, based on the data coming out around the country, it’s clear the virus disproportionately impacts people of color –– and Seattle, with its history of redlining, is no different, he said. Even before the coronavirus crisis hit, Seattle had a housing problem, he said; the crisis just made it that much worse.

To that end, McHenry said UWKC is “intentionally” working with the Urban League, Wellspring, Solid Ground, and Open Doors for Multicultural Families (ODMCF), all nonprofits that center communities of color, immigrants, and refugees.

Renters do not have to be citizens to apply for assistance, and they do not need to be unemployed. All they need to do is provide proof that they are King County residents who are behind on their rent, and fall at 50 percent or lower of area median income. McHenry said they will base allocation guidelines on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and some programs UWKC works with at the city and county level.

“It’s based on the size of the unit, in terms of the amount of money that person will get,” McHenry said. “It varies based on size of household and size of the unit.”

To apply for assistance, visit the UWKC’s rental assistance page, or call 211 to request more information.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. Reach them here.

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