Tenants at all of the Port of Seattle’s wide-ranging properties — from the largest airport concessionaire to the roughly 500 people living on their boats in places like Shilshole Bay Marina — have four months to breathe easier about rent payments.
The Port of Seattle Commission today declared an eviction moratorium lasting until July 25, part of a package of relief for businesses affiliated with the Port that also included a two-month deferral of some rent and fees for airport restaurants, retailers, taxis, remote parking operators, flight kitchens and rental-car companies.
Passenger traffic through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has plummeted by nearly 90% in recent weeks as airlines cut capacity and coronavirus shutdown measures restrict travel and temporarily close businesses.
All of that has left airport businesses hurting. At least 51 storefronts have temporarily closed and half the airport’s dining and retail workers — nearly 1,300 people — have been laid off in the past month, Port Executive Director Steve Metruck said during a Wednesday commission meeting.
Seattle restaurateur Kathy Casey, who owns Lucky Louie Fish Shack at Sea-Tac, said the rent deferral provides some “immediate relief” for her company and its employees.
“Sales are dismal,” she said, down as much as 95%. “We hoped we got bailed out as well as the airlines.”
Casey and partner Stacy House have laid off nearly all their employees, but are covering their health insurance through the end of April and sending them grocery deliveries.
The rent deferral will help them make health-insurance payments and partially cover payroll for those still working, House said.
Port commissioners said they took seriously concerns raised by food workers that laid-off employees could lose health care during a pandemic. Unite Here, the union that represents some food workers at the airport, asked the commission to offer rent relief only if employers maintain health care for workers.
“By letting health insurance coverage lapse, employers are shifting the cost of the COVID-19 crisis on to workers,” said union secretary Stefan Moritz, in an email. “That is wrong, and will make the public health crisis worse, as workers will avoid seeing their doctors and being tested. Employers who take this approach should not get taxpayer funded bailouts at any level of government.”
But the commission was hamstrung by Federal Aviation Administration rules that it treat all leaseholders equally, Commissioner Sam Cho said.
“Small businesses have certain needs, and big businesses may not have as much of a need,” Cho said in a news conference Wednesday. “If we force large tenants to do something that small tenants can’t afford to do, we’re forcing small businesses to go out of business.”
One of the airport’s largest concessionaires, HMS Host, laid off 354 Sea-Tac employees March 18. It’s unlikely those employees will have health care in May, Moritz said, because they won’t have worked enough hours to qualify for insurance.
The rent deferral doesn’t apply to the marinas managed by the Port, so live-aboards will still owe unpaid moorage fees when the eviction moratorium ends in July. And the Port hasn’t committed to deferring all rent for airport dining and retail establishments — just a percentage of it.
Which businesses receive rent deferrals, and how much, will depend on how much they’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and on whether they’re able to bounce back once the pandemic is over, according to the text of the eviction moratorium motion.
Airport director Lance Lyttle said during the commission meeting that he didn’t anticipate passenger traffic through Sea-Tac rising substantially from current levels for several months. For 2020, the Port is forecasting a 44% year-over-year drop in the number of travelers.
Last year, March 31 saw nearly 54,000 people go through the airport, Lyttle said. The same day this year, only 3,500 travelers passed through Sea-Tac’s empty hallways.