Eviction-reform bills in the state Legislature got a boost Tuesday from executives at 10 prominent businesses, who urged lawmakers to change "woefully outdated" laws that are contributing to homelessness.
OLYMPIA — Executives from 10 Washington-based businesses, including tech giants Amazon and Microsoft, threw their support behind proposed eviction reforms intended to stem the growing statewide problem of homelessness.
In a letter to the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee, the companies’ top lawyers called Washington’s eviction laws “woefully outdated” and described proposals by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, and Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, as “substantial and low-cost step(s) toward addressing our housing crisis.”
“Simply stated, Washington’s eviction laws are a root cause of our homelessness problems, and we can take a significant step toward addressing them now — at minimal cost to taxpayers — by simply updating them in some common sense ways this legislative session,” reads the letter signed by executives from Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, Convoy, RealNetworks, the Seattle Mariners, NanoString Technologies, Everett’s Funko and Bellevue’s Expedia, in addition to Amazon and Microsoft.
Specifically, they supported Democratic proposals that, among other things, would extend the pay-or-vacate notice timeline from three days to two or three weeks, giving tenants more time to avert an eviction that could hurt future housing prospects. The legislation also increases to 60 days the mandatory notice to propose a change in rent.
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The letter adds to a growing focus on evictions as a pipeline into homelessness. A recent study by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project found that nearly 90 percent of people evicted ended up living with friends or family, in transitional housing or without any options for immediate shelter. The report, which analyzed nearly 1,600 evictions in Seattle in 2017 and 2018, found that more than half of tenants in evictions were people of color.
The commission’s report quickly caught the attention of the Seattle Mariners, which donated $3 million to a King County Bar Association legal clinic for people facing eviction. Microsoft also donated $5 million to the clinic.
Kuderer hopes the letter could add momentum to her bill, which had a public hearing early last week and has not been scheduled for a committee vote.
“Their stepping up and speaking up with one voice really, I think, puts the issue under an even bigger microscope,” said Kuderer, chair of the Senate Housing Stability and Affordability Committee.
The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA), which partly governs the state’s eviction process, was passed by the Legislature in 1972. While alterations have been made since, the core of the RLTA remains in place.
In a hearing for Kuderer’s bill last week, Washington Landlord Association President Rob Trickler warned that eviction reform could force landlords, who have to worry about their mortgage payments, out of the business, lessening the supply of available housing.
“They are not living in mattresses of money, they’re struggling day to day,” Trickler said.
Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, also a member of Kuderer’s committee, said that the letter is more symbolic than substantive, much like the legislation that he thinks will lessen the low-income housing supply.
“I’m all on board, just tell those same people to start putting money in the kitty to help those people make their rent payment, so that the landlord could then make his mortgage payment, so that the landlord could then keep those housing units on the market,” Fortunato said. “It’s real nice stuff, you know, to make them feel better.”
Macri said last week that her legislation, which is still in a House committee, had earned the support of her caucus, which has a 57-41 majority over the GOP. Democrats have a similarly wide majority in the state Senate.
Tech companies and other local big businesses have been increasingly vocal lately on housing-affordability issues in the Seattle area. Critics, including members of the Seattle City Council, have been quick to point to the rent increases that have come with the rapid growth of Amazon and the broader tech sector in the Seattle area as a cause of the housing crisis.
Last month, Microsoft announced plans to donate $25 million toward homelessness-relief efforts and $475 million in loans to support new housing aimed at lower- and middle-income earners.
Then last week, a coalition of 17 CEOs of major local companies, called Challenge Seattle, released a report and call to action for more middle-class housing production in the region. Executives of Amazon, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, Starbucks and Expedia all signed both that report and Tuesday’s letter supporting eviction reform.
“They clearly understand what a lot of us see is that there isn’t a community in Washington that hasn’t been touched in some way by the housing and homelessness crisis,” Kuderer said.
In arguing for the importance of eviction-reform legislation, the companies refer generically to their “public and private efforts to work,” including “developing more affordable housing and ameliorating homelessness.”
Amazon has donated more than $40 million in cash, space and equipment over more than a decade to Mary’s Place, a homeless-services provider for families, and FareStart, a culinary training program for people leaving homelessness.
In 2020, Mary’s Place will have a permanent shelter with 65 rooms in an Amazon building under construction in Seattle, apparently the first such shelter integrated into a corporate office project
Seattle Times staff reporters Vernal Coleman, Mike Rosenberg and Benjamin Romano contributed to this report.