Renters and landlords alike will soon be able to apply for rental assistance from a $41.4 million fund to be disbursed by King County.
The rental assistance effort, the bulk of which is funded by CARES Act money received from the federal government, has launched via a county website and will last through Dec. 30 when CARES Act money expires. Renters and landlords who have fallen behind on or are missing rent payments will be able to apply for three months of rental relief, though there are restrictions on who can receive the funds.
The rental assistance program will last beyond the deadline Gov. Jay Inslee set for the statewide moratorium on evictions, which he extended from Aug. 1 to Oct. 15 last month. Experts and advocates have warned, however, that a wave of evictions could follow the end of such moratoriums when people owe back-rent for the months they were unable to pay.
“Many people are facing serious challenges due to COVID-19 and the loss of health or income, leaving them extremely vulnerable to eviction,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a news release announcing the program. “This emergency program will forestall the loss of housing and prevent homelessness for thousands of residents in need across King County.”
The county is now taking feedback on the program via an online form through Aug. 25 and accepting interest forms from renters and landlords, though it will not start distributing funds until after the initial comment period has ended. If selected by the county, renters and landlords can then apply for funds.
The largest piece of the funding, $17.9 million, will be set aside for bigger landlords, who can apply for three months of rent relief if they have residential properties with low-income housing tax credits or have properties in high-needs ZIP codes, defined by high rates of unemployment or COVID-19 deaths.
“This is great news,” said Brett Waller of the Washington Multifamily Housing Association, a landlord advocacy group.
The landlords who qualify for the program can receive three months of payment at 80% of the regular rent or the fair market rent for their eligible tenants, whichever is lower. In return, landlords must agree to waive all rent debts for eligible tenants, not raise rents and not evict tenants for reasons other than good cause through March 2021.
Landlords with more missed payments will be prioritized, according to the county, which will start processing submissions from this group on Aug. 24.
Another $10 million from the program will go to individual renters, who will be drawn from a lottery-based rental assistance system starting Sept. 14 if they’ve made at or below the 50% area median income over the prior 60 days and if they’ve fallen behind on rent. Households also must meet one of the following conditions: a high rent burden, a history of homelessness or eviction, be at risk of severe illness, have a household member with a disability or have housing disrupted due to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or religion.
If a renter qualifies for relief, their landlords similarly must accept three months of payment at 80% of the regular rent or the fair market rent for the unit. Their landlords then must also waive all debts, even if the renter owes more than three months of missed rent, and agree not to raise rents, evict the tenant or refuse to renew the lease other than for good cause through March 31, 2021.
Small landlords can also apply to the same funding pool available for renters if they have at least one property in a high needs ZIP code. All mobile home park landlords and managers will also be able to apply for funds.
An additional $5 million will be allocated to the United Way of King County to help people in eviction proceedings once the eviction moratorium ends. Other money will go to outreach services and administration, among other things.
Rachael Myers, executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, said the program would be “hugely helpful” to the individuals and families that need them, but warned that more funding was needed to avert evictions once the moratorium is lifted.
“It’s going to end at some point and we’re going to need significantly more funding than this,” Myers said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, an estimated 450,000 people in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area were estimated to be housing insecure the week of July 16. The measure of housing insecurity was based on whether people had missed last month’s housing payment or if they had little confidence they could make next month’s payments.
The county’s rental assistance fund expects to serve between 7,700 and 10,000 households.
Both Seattle and King County have passed additional renter protections past the end of the statewide moratorium, including a defense renters can use in eviction proceedings if they are unable to pay rent after the moratorium is lifted.