King County councilmembers debate over mortgage moratorium

King County Council -

COVID-19 has caused a financial-halt in the lives of many Washingtonians. As a result, tenant advocates and King County councilmembers stressed for the extension of Gov. Jay Inslee’s moratorium order back in March alongside a freeze in rent. In response to Washington’s current financial situation, Inslee extended the moratorium on evictions through June 4.

Before the extension, King County councilmembers Girmay Zahilay and Jeanne Kolh-Welles proposed for the stoppage of rent. “Thousands of King County residents are terrified. Not only of COVID-19 but of losing their livelihood and their homes,” said Zahilay and Kolh-Welles in a joint statement. Zahilay also noted that Washington would “see a spike in homelessness” if there isn’t a moratorium on rent. “The consequence of inaction is an economic free-fall, the likes of which that maybe we’ve never seen before,” he added. Despite King County councilmembers Zahilay and Kolh-Welles supporting the moratorium of mortgage, one member does not.

Opposing the freeze in rent/mortgage, King County councilmember Regan Dunn stated that the legislation, if issued, could have the opposite effect on Washington’s economy. “A rent and mortgage moratorium would set a very dangerous precedent by harnessing the power of a public health crisis to undermine the basic free-market principles of supply and demand. If landlords and banks aren’t paid, we could see far, far greater damage to our economy than what has already been caused by this pandemic.” Dunn went on to say that landlords are often seen as “rich villains” who seek the money of the poor for anything they can get. However, as Dunn noted, ” [Landlords] get the income that they feed their children with by the two or three homes that they own or that they rent out… So you’re talking about a lot of mom-and-pop folks.” He believes that such legislation should be opposed, or it will destroy the economy.

On April 17, Inslee extended his moratorium on evictions, including new details to the original order issued in mid-March. Inslee’s new order builds on the previous order as it prevents landlords from evicting individuals and prohibits law enforcement from assisting in evictions. “It is clear that as we deal with the challenges around COVID-19, the financial impacts on Washingtonians are significant,” Inslee said. “People have lost their livelihoods through no fault of their own, and we must continue to take steps to ensure they don’t also lose the roofs over their heads.” According to King 5, the order hinders landlords from increasing rent for residential units. It also stops landlords from treating unpaid rent and charges as an enforceable debt. All payments delayed through the order will “still be owed, but a landlord must offer a tenant a reasonable repayment plan to enforce any collection of that debt.” To conclude the order, Inslee added, “This order further acknowledges, applauds and reflects gratitude for the immeasurable contribution to the health and well-being of our communities and families made by the landlords, property owners and property managers subject to this order.”