The Seattle City Council will vote next week on a resolution that would prohibit the mayor from ending the city’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium before the civil emergency ends.

Since March 2020, Seattle renters have been protected by a moratorium banning evictions that result from the pandemic, except in extreme cases. After several extensions by former Mayor Jenny Durkan and two of his own, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced last week that he would let the moratorium expire at the end of February.

“In addition to distribution of all available emergency rental assistance, truly vulnerable tenants — those still suffering significant pandemic-related financial hardships — will continue to have enhanced eviction protections, while at the same time small landlords have needed clarity as they evaluate how to move forward,” Harrell said in a news release last week.

Harrell said he would focus instead on distributing the city’s $25 million in rental assistance funds to help those burdened by rent.

Some have questioned Harrell’s timing, with King County averaging about 800 new daily COVID cases this week.

“Come March, COVID will still be here, people will still owe rent, neighbors will still be missing work, and really, until renters have had a chance to catch up on their rent debt, I think it’s important for us to reconsider this decision,” Councilmember Tammy Morales said during a briefing this week. 

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To combat Harrell’s decision, which she described as “inhumane and unacceptable,” Councilmember Kshama Sawant introduced a resolution that would require the moratorium to last for the duration of the city’s overall COVID-19 civil emergency order, which has been in place since March 3, 2020.

“The city of Seattle is still in a state of civil emergency. But it appears that the emergency measures that negatively affect the profits of big business are the first to end, while emergency measures protecting the political establishment and the profits of real estate corporations remain in place,” Sawant said Friday in a meeting of the Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee, where she hosted a discussion about the moratorium with housing advocates. 

Currently, the emergency order requires that the moratorium lasts until the end of the civil emergency or “60 days from the effective date of this Emergency Order. The decision to extend the moratorium shall be evaluated and determined by the Mayor based on public health necessity.”

To block the Feb. 28 expiration, the resolution would remove that language, so that the moratorium could only end when the city’s civil emergency order is lifted. 

But Sawant recognized a hole in the proposed resolution. 

“I want to be clear that every type of legislation has its drawbacks. Mayor Harrell, as mayor, does have the power to end an emergency order or end the state of emergency as a whole,” she said. 

Sawant’s plan, which will be voted on Tuesday, drew criticism from many community members — primarily landlords — who believe that allowing the moratorium to persist is unfair to what callers repeatedly referred to as “mom-and-pop” property owners. 

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“The mayor’s made a just and equitable decision that the council should follow,” Brett Frank-Looney, a property owner said during public comment on Friday, criticizing Sawant for hosting a panel of housing advocates without including landlords. “Instead, take his lead and ensure quick distribution of housing assistance.

“During your presentation today, we’ll hear from a number of tenant advocates as they anecdotally mention a potential wave of evictions. This is not the case,” he said. “Note that once again, small mom-and-pop landlords have been left out of the dialogue, per the chair’s decision.”

Other commenters argued that rent relief funds would not be enough on their own to protect renters and avoid an increase in homelessness. 

“None of these things happen in a vacuum, but the reality is as of December, 96,000, Seattle-area renters were behind on rent,” Margot Stewart, a formerly homeless renter in First Hill said, referring to a recent census study.

“And I hear a lot of talk from City Council Democrats about addressing real issues affecting Seattle, like homelessness and crime, but 90% of those thousands of my neighbors who will get evicted will end up homeless like I was, either temporarily or chronically,” Stewart said. “Last I checked, one of the first steps in addressing our housing crisis is preventing new people from becoming homeless.”

Morales noted on Monday that the city has several other lesser protections for renters in place, including a winter eviction ban, guaranteed legal counsel for those facing evictions, and an update to the Fair Chance Housing ordinance which prohibits future landlords from using evictions brought during the civil emergency as a reason to deny housing.

“These are certainly not going to stop any trauma from the end of the eviction moratorium, but I do want folks to understand that there is at least some additional protection for people,” Morales said.

“Nevertheless, if we end the moratorium at the end of the month, that isn’t going to slow a potential surge in displacement and homeless,” she said, again urging Harrell to reconsider his decision.