Eviction Moratoriums Harm Residents and Housing Providers: Washington Needs More Holistic Solutions
Nobody should be without a safe place to stay during the winter – or any time of year.
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 relatively small and solvable challenge, if we take the right approach. But an absolute five-month moratorium on evictions, as proposed by Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, does more harm than good.
In Seattle, evictions most commonly occur because of two factors, non-payment of rent – often repeatedly – and/or repeated behavioral issues that affect the health and safety of the rental housing provider and their neighbors. Small landlords will not be able to maintain their rental units, may go into foreclosure with their mortgage lender, or take their rental home off the market if they cannot depend on rental income for up to five months of every year.
An eviction moratorium only exacerbates the problem. In 2019, the state provided more legal notice for tenants to address nonpayment issues before a case is served and filed with the court and also created opportunities for the court to intervene in judicial evictions.
In the last decade, Washington’s population grew by 12 percent, but we underproduced more than 225,000 homes – everything from apartments to single family houses. Just to keep up with demand, we need to create about 10,000 new apartments every year by 2030.
While the city of Seattle can do many things to help prevent evictions, the vast majority of the over 8,200 people experiencing homelessness in 2017 were not evicted. An annual survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, major cities across the country reported that the top causes of homelessness among families were: (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, and (4) low wages, in that order, with similar causes for individuals experiencing homelessness.
To address the primary cause of evictions, we need more housing options for Washingtonians to find and remain in an affordable home. We also need more resources in our communities to assist renters experiencing financial hardship.
Recent history illustrates that community resources to assist renters experiencing financial hardship is a much more effective solution to evictions for tenants and housing providers. For example, the Seattle Housing Levy allocated $1.6 million in rental assistance to six community associations in 2018. The programs formed as a result of this funding provided an average of $1,686 in direct financial assistance per household served and the programs assisted 553 households at imminent risk of homelessness. Since 2017, the programs have helped upwards of 95% of households successfully maintain their housing once they exited the program. The United Way of King County’s Home Base program has also proven to be successful in diverting families from homelessness and keeping them in housing.
Expanding rental assistance community funds is a proven way to prevent evictions and doesn’t put the already limited number of affordable rental homes at risk.