Up until now, renters who’ve been struggling financially have at least had some peace of mind. Even though many have lost employment or had their hours reduced during the pandemic, they mostly haven’t had to have to worry about losing their home.
That’s because of eviction moratoriums. There was a federal freeze on evictions, with some exceptions, which ended July 31. Washington state also enacted a moratorium, as did the city of Seattle. Both had been set to expire in June, but were extended (with some modifications to the state moratorium) through the end of September. (An ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council will extend eviction protections through March 31 if the tenant can demonstrate financial hardship due to COVID-19.)
Well, the end of September is just around the corner. In other words, we’re facing a looming crisis of evictions. And data from the U.S. Census Bureau gives us some sense of the scale of this problem in the Seattle area.
An estimated 60,000 Seattle-area renters, ages 18 and older, said their household was behind on the rent in the most recent release of the Census Bureau’s ongoing Household Pulse Survey program. The survey was conducted from Aug. 18-30.
Even more troubling: Of those 60,000 renters, most owe multiple months’ worth of payments to their landlord. Only about 13,000 were just one month behind, according to the data.
After the federal evictions moratorium expired, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a temporary halt on evictions nationwide, but it was promptly struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Unlike Washington, most states haven’t enacted a moratorium on evictions.
The survey data shows an estimated 820,000 adults living in rental units in the Seattle area, which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. So the 60,000 who are behind on rent represent about 7% of the total adult renter population.
The survey includes data for all 50 states plus the 15 largest metro areas in the U.S., and Seattle just makes the cut at No. 15. Among these large metros, we tie with Phoenix for having the lowest percentage of renters in arrears at the end of August. The worst situation is in the Miami area, where 28% of renters are not caught up on their payments.
Nationally, about 7.7 million people said their household was behind on the rent, which is nearly 14% of adult renters.
It’s worth noting that this survey likely undercounts the number of renters whose households are behind on rent. That’s because not everyone who filled out the survey answered the question regarding their renter or homeowner status, and so their response was not included.
While 60,000 Seattle-area renters who are behind on their rent is not a small number, it has come down a lot. 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.
But another thing has changed since earlier in the year that is captured by the surveys: Fear about being evicted has spiked among Seattle-area renters.
Surveys from early in the year show about a third of local renters felt that eviction was somewhat-to-very likely in the next couple of months. But the most recent survey shows that it’s now a majority of renters — 64% — who feel it is somewhat-to-very likely that they will face eviction in the next two months. That increase is surely due to the fact that the moratoriums are expiring.
Perhaps even more alarming than the number of renters in arrears is the number who weren’t sure that they could pay next month’s rent — since the survey was taken in August, that would mean September rent.
About 136,000 renters — 17% of the total — said they were only slightly confident, or not at all confident, that they can pay. Considering that the eviction moratoriums are ending, that’s not good news.
The percentage was significantly higher among people who live in households making less than $50,000 and among those who live in larger households (five or more people). People of color were a little less confident than white people about making next month’s rent.
Some other states, including New York, New Jersey, Minnesota and New Mexico, have moratoriums that extend out further than September for evictions under certain circumstances. California’s moratorium, like Washington’s, ends Sept. 30.