Red Tape and Tight Restrictions Prevent Renters and Housing Providers from Getting COVID Assistance
The good news is over $100 million in rental assistance is making its way to Washington counties as part of the CARES Act. The bad news is onerous restrictions in King County may prevent renters and housing providers from accessing these much-needed funds.
Accumulated rental debt in Washington State is already over $135 million according to data gathered by the Washington Multifamily Housing Association. Considering that the current amount of available rental assistance statewide is not enough for everyone who needs it, we must prioritize funding for those who need it most. Unfortunately, restrictions placed on assistance in King County might mean very few people will see any relief.
Rental Assistance Doesn’t Pencil Out
To participate in the current King County rental assistance program, housing providers must agree to accept only 80% of 3 months past-due rent from March to September 2020. If they accept assistance, housing providers are then required to waive any of their tenant’s remaining debt. In addition, housing providers must also agree to guarantee the tenancy until March 2021, even if the tenant cannot make future rental payments.
These restrictions mean that the program is not financially viable for many housing providers. Particularly impacted are those who want to keep their current residents, but cannot meet the costs of providing housing without receiving several months’ worth of rent, either already accrued or continuing into future months.
Alex, who rents one unit in King County, is unable to make the math pencil out. The monthly rent for his unit is $2,600. His resident currently owes 10 months of back rent, which is $26,000. The subsidy offered by King County in this case would only pay $6,240 in total. Looking ahead, he also must guarantee 5 months future rent, which amounts to an additional $13,000 – with no guarantee of receiving those payments This means Alex would have to take on the risk of over $32,760 in order to receive a subsidy of $6,240.
For many small housing providers like Alex, this is not financially viable as they still owe taxes, mortgage payments, and the many other costs of maintaining a safe and functional property.
Limits on Resident Eligibility
King County is only setting aside CARES act money for residents making 50% AMI or below. This threshold leaves out a vast group who are above that AMI standard, but are still facing a loss in income or unemployment preventing them from paying for their housing costs.
Instead of utilizing income tiers to distribute desperately needed rental assistance funds, policymakers should prioritize relief for residents who are experiencing unemployment due to COVID-19 regardless of their prior income. This approach would ensure that anyone currently without income due to COVID-19 is eligible for housing assistance.
Regardless of a resident’s prior income, if they find themselves unable to pay the rent, and their housing provider is unable to afford the property, we all face the loss of a critical rental unit in an already-sparse market.
What we need in a rental assistance program
The economic impacts of the pandemic will continue well after the threat of the disease is minimized. We can’t afford to see people turned away before they have a chance to even request assistance that is badly needed. And we certainly can’t afford to have a program that does not adequately support housing providers who need assistance the most in order to keep their residences available for tenants.
As we continue to work together to address the impacts of COVID-19, we call on our elected officials to ensure that programs in place sustain the viability of rental housing in our region, keeping residents housed now and well into the future.