Careless and Overlapping City Council Eviction Bans Put Affordable Housing at Risk

Advocacy, COVID-19, Membership,

COVID-19 and the economic fallout of shutdown orders, social distancing, and job losses have affected everyone. Rental housing providers have been actively seeking comprehensive solutions to ensure both residents and housing providers can weather this crisis.

No one government, industry, or non-profit can do it alone. Yet, that is what is being asked of housing providers. Seattle’s post-COVID ban on evictions, coupled with Councilwoman Sawant’s winter eviction ban, puts undue pressure and enormous responsibility on housing providers to financially support residents. Combined, the two ordinances prevent small housing providers from covering their taxes, mortgages, and maintenance costs when their residents cannot or refuse to pay rent. The suit also challenges the one-size-fits-all payment-plan ordinance that the Council passed that fails to consider individualized landlord and tenant circumstances. 

The Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAWA) and several housing providers filed for injunctive relief today to prevent the Seattle post-COVID eviction ban and winter eviction ban from being implemented. We hope we are successful in this effort and that it encourages the city to focus on real solutions to Seattle’s longstanding and ongoing housing affordability issues. We will continue to work with policymakers at all levels to do so including:

  • Allocating accessible funds for proven rental assistance programs so people don’t fall through the cracks.
  • Extending federal emergency unemployment benefits.
  • Ending exclusionary zoning that prevents the creation of affordable housing.
  • Creating more housing of all types to meet the needs of everyone in every neighborhood.
  • Continuing investment in public-private partnerships that create more affordable housing.

The full filing can be found here.

What This Action Means and Who It Will Help

To be clear: we are not challenging Governor Inslee’s or Mayor Durkan’s emergency COVID-19 Executive Orders.

We are challenging the City Council’s post-COVID eviction ban which takes effect for six months after the COVID-19 emergency ends. We are also challenging Councilwoman Sawant’s winter eviction ban that passed in February of 2020. These ordinances are the latest example of the Seattle City Council wading into policies it knows little about, creating all new housing problems, and solving nothing.

We always encourage housing providers to work with their tenants, especially during hard times. We have continuously urged local, state, and federal leaders to provide comprehensive rental assistance and unemployment relief to help those who need it. But the scope of the extended bans unfortunately means Seattle housing providers will have no ability to collect rent and cover their expenses well into 2021 for tenants who cannot or will not pay rent.

Small housing providers who rent out their house or condo account for half of the rental housing supply in America and thousands of rental homes in Seattle. Unlike corporations and banks, these individuals cannot weather extended loss of rental income and will face bankruptcy and foreclosure if they don’t have the income to pay taxes and the mortgage to the bank. When those types of foreclosures happen, homes typically revert back to owner-occupancy when the bank puts it up for auction.

Post-COVID Eviction Ban and Winter Eviction Ban Ignore Broader Challenges

A variety of factors can make it hard or impossible for people to pay their rent. Anything from an employer that doesn’t pay a living wage to altogether losing a job due to COVID-19. These and everything in between are out of the control of the housing provider.

Evictions are a last resort for housing providers because evictions are harmful to both tenants and housing providers. In 2017, 1,218 Seattle residents were impacted by evictions. This represents an eviction rate of 0.19% based on Seattle’s population. Of these, 1,053 cases filed for nonpayment of rent. The average monthly rent was $1,221.45 with the average amount requested in the complaint being $2,024.83.

These figures demonstrate a solvable challenge if we take the right approach with rental assistance. But an absolute winter eviction ban and the post-emergency ban are the wrong approaches.

Seattle’s post-COVID eviction ban all but presumes small housing providers should be held liable for housing costs even after the COVID-19 emergency declaration has ended. It targets the people at the end of what are often long chains of events that lead to nonpayment of rent and demands that individuals providing rental homes be the ones to fill the gap where the government cannot or will not help.

91 percent of the rent a resident pays goes to mortgage holders, financial institutions, taxes, maintenance costs, and utilities. There are many downstream effects both in lost taxes to the city, and an inability to maintain the property, when rent isn’t paid. Further, many mortgage companies are not offering true forbearance which prevents housing providers from passing savings on to their renters.

We fully agree that we must take drastic steps to ensure all members of our community can stay housed as we continue to face the challenges of the pandemic. In fact, housing providers have stepped up to help their residents by waiving fees, working on payment plans, and connecting residents to state and community resources. Many are covering all or part of housing costs for residents.

However, the extended ban that kicks in after COVID-19 recedes, fails to focus our resources on those who truly need help – and it does not solve the problem of covering housing costs. We must continue to protect residents and our fragile housing supply during COVID-19 so we can keep people in their homes and prevent the loss of rental housing in the city.

Media Coverage