Mayor Jenny Durkan extended a moratorium on evictions in Seattle until the end of the year as renters continue to face significant financial hardship due to the coronavirus-fueled economic downturn.
Under the order, landlords may not evict tenants absent an “imminent threat to health and safety.” Paired with a previous order by Gov. Jay Inslee, property owners also may not increase rent or security deposits.
Washington’s unemployment figure hit a staggering 9.8 percent in June, according to the state’s Department of Employment Security. That’s still below the nationwide figure of 11.1 percent. In June 2019, the unemployment rate was 4.3 percent.
Job losses hit the service sector hard, meaning that thousands of Washingtonians who may have already been struggling are now out of work, compounding the economic hardship. With a vaccine for the virus a year out — in the most optimistic circumstance — it’s possible that many of those jobs won’t come back any time soon.
While Seattleites will not have to choose between rent and health care, food or other necessities today, Durkan’s order is a partial measure. Renters continue to accrue back rent, meaning that when the order is lifted, they will have to find some way to pay off the accumulated debt.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order that purported to help struggling renters, but according to Politico, it is more bluster than substance. Instead of doing anything to stem the eviction of as many as 20 million Americans, the order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to “consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions” are necessary specifically to combat the coronavirus.
That will not help renters who are poised to lose their homes as eviction moratoriums expire across the country, including a federal moratorium that impacted roughly a quarter of the rental units in the country and lasted four months.
This has experts sounding the alarm, warning of a tidal wave of homelessness as landlords go to court to oust households already hurting from the pandemic.
The evictions are already starting.
According to Eviction Lab, a project founded by Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, landlords in 17 cities filed 34,669 evictions since the coronavirus took hold in the United States in mid-March. Eviction moratoriums are in effect in several of those cities, preventing law enforcement from carrying them out. However, that will change when the moratoriums expire.
Congress passed the CARES Act in March, funneling $1,200 to most residents of the United States. Another law, sponsored by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet in December 2019, would create a fund to help renters avoid eviction and establish consumer protections regarding eviction.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the Aug. 19-25, 2020 issue.