Eviction crisis looms while homelessness on the rise in King County

Photo credit: David Lee

The eviction moratorium extended last month (for the second time) by Gov. Inslee will expire on Aug. 1. The moratorium protects tenants from evictions for non-payment, from rent increases, from late and partial fees. This, however, doesn’t “forgive” their rent (as the viral graffiti pleads). It just postpones their due date to Aug. 1. And, for those who have been unable to pay, debts are accumulating. Starting Aug. 2, landlords will be allowed to send a notice to pay or leave if they don’t receive the due sum. Considering that 37% of Washingtonians are renters, and 45.3% of tenants in the famously expensive Seattle area spend more than 30% of their earnings on housing, we can’t but expect further aggravations to Washington’s homelessness crisis. According to The Stranger, 50,000 renters might face eviction once the ban expires.

Regardless of unemployment rates, which were at 11.1% in June, Washington has been experiencing a homelessness crisis for several years, even with significantly lower unemployment rates (which, in February, were at 3.5%), in part because of rising housing costs. King County’s 2020 Point-In-Time revealed that on the night of Jan. 23, there were 11,551 homeless individuals, a number that surpassed 2019’s population by 5%. Among them, 5,578 were unsheltered. It is also important to note that homelessness is a symptom of systemic racism. Homelessness disproportionally impacts communities of color. The Point-In-Time survey shows that 15% of the people located were Native American/Alaska Native, 25% were Black, and 15% were Latinx. Respectively, they represent 1%, 7%, and 10% of King County’s population. A research conducted by the UW Evictions Project has shown that, between 2004 and 2017, 1 in 11 black King County residents were evicted, while only one white resident out of 100 lost hosing, suggesting that black people are potentially the most vulnerable to the upcoming wave of evictions.

The economy is still trying to recover from the COVID hit. Objectively, the future doesn’t look too bright for Washingtonians, as 1,087 new cases were recorded on July 6, beating the “old” record (from July 2) of 716 cases. We are getting farther from flattening the curve, and closer to an eviction catastrophe. Because of the dramatic increase of COVID cases, the economy risks a second closure, meaning that thousands of low-wage tenants might lose their jobs. People have received only one stimulus check (with tens of thousands of WA residents still waiting), and dates for a second are still uncertain. For many, the check won’t arrive soon enough, nor be enough for housing and basic expenses, even with the unemployment check of $600.

Whereas the moratorium is protecting renters from homelessness and COVID, independent property owners who make a living out of rent find themselves in a critical situation. The moratorium suggests developing payment solutions with their tenants. Still, these accommodations might be insufficient for landlords to pay bills and basic needs. Again, just like rent, missed mortgage payments are postponed, not forgiven.

Of the $365 million of funding announced by Inslee on June 30, $100 million are directed towards low-income renters at risk of homelessness, with checks directly arriving to landlords, but the sum might not be enough to pay thousands of dollars of individual debt that 50,000 Washingtonians cannot pay. With this in mind, the state government has to develop a preventive plan soon and devote more funds to the cause, or the crisis risks becoming irreversible.