Mayor Jenny Durkan has handed yet another pandemic rent reprieve to the city’s residential and small business tenants, extending Seattle’s current eviction moratorium through the end of December.
The extension comes as laid-off Washingtonians lose an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits from the federal government — money that for many has been a lifeline in recent months, and, landlords say, helped keep rent collections relatively stable. Congress broke Thursday for a three-week recess without passing additional coronavirus relief.
Durkan’s Friday executive order is somewhat redundant: City Council legislation passed in May already gave residential tenants eviction protection through the end of the year. The biggest beneficiaries of the new order are small businesses and nonprofits, which now have the same assurance.
The order is also emblematic of how local governments are struggling to address the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis in the absence of additional federal relief that tenants’ rights group and landlord organizations agree is needed.
Seattle first enacted an eviction moratorium in mid-March. At first, it was a Band-Aid solution, only slated to last until May 15 — but as the pain of the pandemic deepened, and any specific federal assistance in paying rent proved unforthcoming, it was extended until June 4, then Aug. 1.
Every extension of the eviction moratorium without corresponding help for renters “kicks the can further down the road,” said Kyle Woodring, a lobbyist for the landlord group Rental Housing Association of Washington, in a recent interview. Tenants are still on the hook for unpaid rent at the end of the moratorium, he said, and “every month, the bills pile on.”
Some tenants may be able to get help paying the rent through the state’s Eviction Rent Assistance Program, which recently received a $100 million infusion from the federal government.
But those funds come with strings that could put them out of reach for some. The money, distributed by the Department of Commerce, will go to tenants who earn less than 50% of the area median income, have missed at least one rental payment since March and match other indicators of housing insecurity.
Rent collections are already slightly down in August, according to new data from the Washington Multifamily Housing Association. The group primarily tracks large, corporate buildings. Tenants in more affordable housing are struggling more. And those who were never able to access unemployment assistance in the first place, including undocumented immigrants, are having the toughest time of all, advocates say.