Seattle’s pandemic eviction moratoriums will remain in place through Jan. 15, 2022, rather than expiring at the end of September, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday.
Durkan has extended the moratoriums with an executive order, she announced in a news release, citing the spread of the coronavirus delta variant and an ongoing effort to distribute assistance to tenants who are behind on their rent.
Hospitalizations related to the virus appear to be decreasing across Washington state, but deaths appear to be increasing.
As many as 60,000 Seattle-area residents are estimated to be in households with rent debt, according to a survey last month.
Seattle’s moratoriums on most residential evictions and some commercial evictions have been extended six times since they were established in March 2020, Durkan said.
“This next extension will ensure every level of government can provide rental assistance and housing support to tenants and landlords, which is critical to stabilizing the community as we reopen and recover,” the mayor said in the release.
The city’s moratoriums apply to residential, nonprofit and small-business tenants, with small businesses defined as those with 50 or fewer employees. Most evictions are prohibited for those tenants, including evictions for nonpayment of rent, though tenants remain legally obligated to pay rent and can accumulate debt.
Seattle is requiring landlords to offer payment plans and has banned late charges and interest. Evictions can be sought in dangerous situations.
When the city’s moratorium on residential evictions expires, a six-month defense in court against evictions due to COVID-19 hardship will kick in, as will a defense against evictions based on rent debt incurred during the pandemic.
Durkan isn’t running for re-election this year and will no longer be mayor in January. Bruce Harrell and M. Lorena González are competing for the job.
In July, Gov. Jay Inslee replaced Washington’s moratorium on residential evictions with a “bridge” policy set to expire at the end of this month. Under that policy, landlords can seek some evictions for lease violations, nuisances and other issues.
The state is requiring landlords to offer payment plans to tenants who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic, working to set up a program offering free attorneys to low-income tenants facing eviction and offering relief grants of up to $15,000 to landlords under certain conditions.
In a joint statement Tuesday, landlord organizations criticized the extension of the city’s moratorium on residential evictions.
“The city now owns a housing crisis of its own making and has no idea how to move forward. It’s no longer even about COVID as businesses are open and hiring,” Rental Housing Association of Washington and Washington Multi-Family Housing Association said.
Paula Sardinas, founder of the Washington Build Back Black Alliance, hailed Seattle’s extension. Families in vulnerable situations have been traumatized by the uncertainty surrounding evictions, she said.
Pushing the city’s moratorium into January should allow time for solutions, Sardinas said.
Kate Rubin, executive director of the tenant-advocacy organization Be:Seattle, called Durkan’s order “a real relief for a lot of renters,” many of whom are waiting for rental assistance. Inslee should extend statewide protections, Rubin added.
“I don’t know why we would be evicting people” when help is available or on the way for many, said Edmund Witter, senior managing attorney for the Housing Justice Project.
Many tenants who have applied for rent assistance feel stuck in a “black hole of bureaucracy,” Witter said.
The federal government has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to local governments for COVID-19 rent assistance but some efforts to get the money into the hands of tenants and landlords have lagged.
At this point, King County has spent about $34 million of $145 million from the federal government’s latest round of funding, or about 24%, according to the county’s Department of Community and Human Services. Snohomish and Pierce counties, in contrast, have each spent more than two-thirds of their resources.
The delay in King County has frustrated tenants and landlords alike, and the county has promised several changes to speed up its distribution program.
Seattle has disbursed about $15 million in federally funded rent assistance since June and has allocated $6 million more to community organizations that serve people of color, Durkan said Tuesday. The city is now in the process of disbursing an additional $28 million, she said.
To qualify for rent assistance, tenants living in King County must make 50% of area’s median income or less — about $40,500 annually for an individual.
Both King County and Seattle are working with United Way-King County to distribute rent assistance, and the county is handling the applications. Tenants can apply at eprap-prod.powerappsportals.us/tenant and call 206-263-3481 for support.