A small clutch of people with signs at the corner of Broadway and Pike caught Danielle Rogers’ eye the evening of Aug. 27. The mother of five stopped and accepted a half sheet of paper offered by one of the demonstrators from Cancel the Rent, part of a nationwide movement to relieve millions of households from the crushing burden of rent debt and threat of eviction as the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge.
Fewer than 24 hours before, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an eight-page, unsigned opinion ending the federal moratorium on evictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In so doing, the court opened the door to millions of evictions across the country.
Rogers had heard about the decision already, and it struck close to home. She knows the fear of homelessness. She and three of her children were evicted and had to live in their vehicle after falling behind on rent herself in 2020 after losing her job due to the coronavirus pandemic. She secured an apartment in Seattle but had to sell her car to keep up with rent payments. Now she’s two months behind and fearful of what could come next.
“I had just started to get beyond that,” Rogers said. “I know how easy it is to go to nothing.”
“It felt like doing crisis counseling for hundreds of people each month.”
Samantha “Sam” Thompson manages our emergency financial assistance program at the West Seattle Food Bank, and she spends most of her time connecting with West Seattle tenants who need support with overdue rent or utilities. During the pandemic, the number of people needing support went through the roof, and while the lockdowns have ended, the economic impacts for people in West Seattle are ongoing. Our clients include people who lost their jobs during the pandemic, had their hours reduced, or are going to soon lose their unemployment benefits.
Compared to 2019, in 2020 applications for Helpline services — the arm of our organization that provides help with rent and utilities — nearly doubled. Helpline staff and volunteers worked overtime, and to meet the growing need we increased the average amount of our financial assistance grants by 35%.
On Thursday, June 24, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that new funds and protections will be available for renters to bridge the gap between when the state’s eviction moratorium ends and when the state Legislature’s housing stability programs begin.
“As we all know, COVID has had a significant economic impact on our state and a lot of Washingtonians are still experiencing financial hardships,” Inslee said during the press conference Thursday. “These are all reasonable steps and will help ensure that renters and landlords have the opportunity to receive support and resources that are available to them.”
While Washington’s statewide eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of June, Seattle’s eviction ban was extended last week through the end of September. This follows passage of other City Council legislation designed to help residents cope with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, June 18, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city’s eviction moratorium, which applies to both residential and commercial properties, would continue until Sept. 30. Earlier in the month, the Seattle City Council adopted other bills that give certain renters more protections, such as implementing a ban on school-year evictions for school workers and families with children and prohibiting evictions for nonpayment of rent due to financial hardship during the pandemic.
According to the most recent census survey data, about one in seven renters in Washington State feel that they are currently behind on paying rent, with Black (21.9%) and Hispanic (21%) populations disproportionately feeling financial difficulty staying caught up on rent. Only 9.8% of white renters throughout the state, however, feel that they are not caught up on paying for their housing. Additionally, 19.8% of households in the state with children under the age of 18 in the home responded to the survey that they felt they were behind on rental payments, while only 7.1% of households without children present felt they were behind on paying their rent.
Tenants rights counselor Julissa Sanchez read from her phone at the Cancel the Rent Rally at Othello Park on the afternoon of Saturday, June 5 . She said it would be easier to read without her sunglasses on, because if she took them off, the crowd of a few dozen would see her smeared makeup. Sanchez had been crying.
“The eviction moratorium is great — it has prevented unjust evictions …” Sanchez said. “… but it definitely did not prevent the thousands of thousands of dollars of rental debt that our people are in.”
Washington’s statewide eviction moratorium expires on June 30, leaving a large number of low-income and vulnerable residents at risk of eviction, even as they struggle to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
State and local governments stepped in to prevent evictions by passing new renters’ rights bills while the pandemic raged through Washington. Hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into rental assistance programs, largely from the massive federal government spending plan passed under the Trump administration.
The American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March under the Biden administration, will push those numbers higher.
A round-up of news and announcements we don’t want to get lost in the fast-churning news cycle!
COVID-19 Webinar & Testing Locations
Six Months After the COVID Vaccine Webinar, May 27 — With full reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic just weeks away, a group of experts will discuss the State’s next steps and how Washington state can return to a medical world better and more equitable than the old normal.
Dr. Ben Danielson, University of Washington School of Medicine
Dr. Gretchen LaSalle, American Academy of Family Physicians Vaccine Science Fellow
Dr. Larry Corey, Fred Hutch President and Director Emeritus
“The experts will share an update on state vaccination rates, their learnings from the last six months and their outlook for what WA residents can expect moving forward. More information on the webinar can be found here. This event will offer live Spanish and ASL interpretation.”
(This article originally appeared in Real Change and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
“I used to live in those apartments,” Dee Powers, a 38-year-old Seattleite, said wistfully, “but I got priced out.” Standing in Seattle’s Occidental Park, coffee in hand, Powers stared at the distinctive white point of Smith Tower where across the street rests the old apartment Powers called home for five years.
The burst of the housing bubble in 2008 allowed Powers to rent a downtown apartment for $650 a month, but in 2015 they came home to a 60-day notice and a warning of a 40% rent increase. Since then, Powers has called a 40-foot RV home.
On April 13, five vehicle residents gathered at an action meeting in Occidental Park to share their unique car-living experiences in a city with a checkered past. All of the residents, including Powers, have either lived or are currently roaming Seattle’s streets in vehicles.
On Wednesday, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales proposed legislation to close a legal loophole that allows landlords to evict tenants without providing a justification.
The legislation, which Morales is calling the first in a series of “Tenants’ Bill of Rights” legislation, would bar landlords from evicting tenants without giving a reason and would automatically convert all fixed-term leases (those that last for a specific period, such as six months or a year) into month-to-month leases once they expire.
(This article was originally published on Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and has been reprinted with permission.)
The Seattle City Council unanimously approved “right to counsel” legislation Monday that will entitle residential tenants facing eviction to an attorney at no cost.
The vote on this legislation, sponsored by District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant, was originally scheduled for two weeks ago but was delayed via Council vote to sort out possible legal concerns. The original bill could have faced a lawsuit since it looked to give everyone the right to legal counsel regardless of income. Washington’s State constitution prohibits cities from giving money to people “except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm.”