OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday he was extending the state’s eviction moratorium to Sept. 30, with some modifications, to ensure that federal COVID-19 relief funds intended for rental assistance are able to be accessed in time.
Inslee’s announcement came hours after the Biden administration extended the nationwide ban on evictions for a month, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this latest federal extension is intended to be the final one. Last week, Seattle extended its city moratorium until Sept. 30.
Inslee said he also wanted to make sure that programs approved by state lawmakers — including a tenant protection bill and a “right to counsel” measure that ensures low-income tenants have legal representation when faced with an eviction — are up and running before moratorium protections were fully lifted.
He noted there are new provisions in the short-term state extension that differ from the previous moratorium that has been in place for more than a year, including the requirement that starting on Aug. 1 renters are expected to pay full rent unless they negotiate a lesser amount with their landlord or actively seek rental assistance.
Under what he was calling a “bridge” out of the moratorium, Inslee said that through July 31, landlords are prohibited from evicting a tenant for past-due rent during the pandemic until both the rental assistance program and eviction resolution program is in place in their county.
“This bridge is necessary to protect against homelessness for people while these plans are put into implementation,” he said.
Starting Aug. 1, landlords can take action if a tenant isn’t paying rent or trying to obtain rental assistance as long as they offer that tenant a reasonable repayment plan before starting the eviction process. Tenants must also be provided in writing what services and support are available to them.
As before, evictions are still allowed in cases where the landlord intends to sell or move into the property, or if an affidavit declares there are health and safety issues to the property created by the occupant.
The total amount of past-due rent in state tops $1 billion, according to Jim Baumgart, a senior policy adviser to the Democratic governor.
Republican Rep. Michelle Caldier criticized Inslee’s decision to extend the moratorium, saying that measures passed by the Legislature this spring ensured several steps needed to be completed before a tenant can be evicted.
“We have onetime federal support funding. If we wait any longer, tenants will face even bigger financial challenges – without adequate support – and so will housing providers,” Caldier said in a written statement. “Many of these providers are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in arrears, and financial assistance programs will not adequately cover their expenses if the moratorium continues much longer.
According to the Census Pulse Survey for the week of May 26-June 7, approximately 13,000 households statewide are currently not paying rent, and more than 40,000 have “no confidence” they could pay next month’s rent. The Census survey found that more than 10,000 respondents said it was “very likely” they would have to leave their home due to eviction in the next two months. More than 30,000 said it was “somewhat” likely they would be evicted in that timeframe.
While more than $650 million of federal funds have been appropriated to help renters, most of that money is not yet available, Inslee said. Of the $500 million previously allocated to the state Department of Commerce for local government rent assistance, about $126 million has been billed to the agency by the counties since last August, but spokeswoman Jaime Smith noted that there is frequently a lag between when counties pay out money to landlords and when they bill the state for reimbursement.
That lag, she said, makes it hard to know exactly how much funding has been paid out, since the state numbers only reflect what they’ve been billed for. But the ultimate number of households likely to be helped is expected to be more than 80,000, Smith said.