Gov. Jay Inslee has once again extended the deadline for a statewide ban on evictions, extending for three months protections for tenants unable to pay rent. He issued the proclamation just a few days before the eviction moratorium had been set to expire on Wednesday.
The news was welcome for housing organizations and homelessness advocates, who warn of a potential “tsunami” of people who will need help when the moratorium finally expires.
But they’re also calling on the governor to reassess his current, quarterly approach to extending the policy, through a petition organized by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
The petition includes signatures from around 150 housing and homelessness organizations, including several based in Clark County. It asks that Inslee’s office make the ban on evictions permanent and would instead install a plan to repeal the moratorium on a county-by-county basis if those counties can meet certain criteria.
The protections requested are threefold: that all parties involved in an eviction case have a guaranteed right to counsel, that a significant portion of rental assistance dollars have been disbursed, and that a statewide Eviction Resolution Pilot Program is running.
“Allowing any county to proceed with evictions before these vital programs are ready will undermine the intent of your moratorium and of the bills and budget investments made this session,” the letter accompanying the petition stated. “Washington will experience the flood of evictions and homelessness that so many, including you and your team, have worked so hard to prevent.”
According to Rachael Myers, the Housing Alliance’s executive director, the criteria laid out in the plan would help tenants, landlords, housing organizations and the legal system by creating a longer, gentler “offramp” to the moratorium. The deadline on the moratorium comes up “every three months” and leaves everyone scrambling, Meyers added.
“We just realized, we could come up with another date, but really what matters is that we have those protections in place,” she said.
Their proposal hinges on a few bills that passed the Legislature last session but haven’t had enough time to get implemented. Senate Bill 5160, which established the right to counsel in eviction court and a resolution program, likely won’t be functioning statewide until the end of 2021, Meyers said.
Around $650 million in federal funds have been allocated to renters but not yet dispersed. When Inslee issued his announcement on June 24, he called the latest three-month extension “a bridge” to help ensure that the money has time to make it to its intended recipients.
“Every county has a program that has resources, but the capacity in the system to get those funds out isn’t up to meeting the need yet,” Myers said.
Local organizations including Share, Outsiders Inn, Fourth Plain Forward, Janus Youth Programs, NAMI Southwest Washington, Partners in Careers and Winter Hospitality Overflow all signed the document.
Adam Kravitz, the shelter director of Vancouver-based nonprofit Outsiders Inn, said he worries that the resources currently available to the region’s homelessness system won’t be able to accommodate the moratorium’s eventual expiration.
“It’s going to be a tsunami of homelessness and it’s going to be a lot of new people who either have never experienced homelessness or have no idea how to navigate the system and the resources,” Kravitz said.
Ren Autrey, the director of Outsiders Inn, likened the impending drop date to “a cliff.”
“We do have some ideas of how to soften the blows,” Autrey said. “I have been hearing that most of the counties can have the majority of those protections in place in that September to October range. I think we could do it.”
Clark County’s number of unhoused residents barely rose in 2020 despite a huge spike in unemployment, according to an annual report from the Council for the Homeless. The organization credited robust aid programs and protections for renters that helped slow the bleeding.
A January count of the region’s unhoused population also found that the number of people living in congregate shelters had decreased slightly, although that number was likely kept artificially low due to COVID-19 precautions that warned people to stay away from crowds, according to Council for the Homeless Director Kate Budd.
According to the weekly pulse survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, 20.2 percent of Washington households have either missed their last rent or mortgage payment or have a low level of confidence that they’ll be able to pay next month.
“There’s no good way of knowing, are they one month behind or are they six months behind?” Myers said. “They don’t seem to be stabilizing yet.”