September 19, 2021

Washington state and federal rental protection red tape scrutinized as evictions loom

3 min read

Washington will be one of the last states in the country to see evictions for nonpayment. When it does, its housing resources will be under an unprecedented stress test. 

With the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium over the weekend, states have been left on their own to enforce housing measures most passed in 2020 due to job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Jay Inslee made it his priority last year to slap as many tenant protections on the books as quickly as possible. The effort drew at least one class-action lawsuit against the governor, Washington and local municipalities like Seattle.

According to the Mortgage Banking Association, Washington is among just six states in the nation with active eviction protections in place for residential tenants. A year ago, that scenario was far from certain, but multiple extensions by Inslee have guaranteed evictions for nonpayment will start on Sept. 30.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, approximately 31,000 Washington households were not paying rent the week of June 23.

Inslee’s so-called “bridge” proclamation comes with several conditions, namely for tenants who have “demonstrably taken action to pay rent.” Tenants who have sought rent assistance between Sunday and September 30 are protected from eviction. Landlords are also banned from treating unpaid rent as a kind of “enforceable debt” without completing one of the state’s many eviction resolution programs with their tenants.

This past session, the Washington Legislature approved a $658 million spending package in federal money to extend the state’s rental assistance program. That does not include hundreds of millions of dollars from past federal relief programs in the process of making their way to landlords. 

More than 80,000 households are expected to receive aid, according to the state Department of Commerce’s projections. However, it remains to be seen how fast that aid will reach local governments between now and Sept. 30.

Housing advocates have criticized the state and federal government’s handling of housing aid. They say it was needlessly buried in paperwork. Nationwide, the total rental assistance dispersed by state governments was $1.5 billion in May or about 3% of the $46 billion they received to date, the U.S. Treasury Department reported in July.

“This country’s instinct to make sure nobody gets something undeserved hurts everyone in the process,” said Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young.

Many Washingtonians face eviction this fall and may also contend with serious damage to their credit scores and hope of renting a new place. It may be even more challenging for people of color in Washington.

Based on an analysis of some five million U.S. rental applications by apartment industry blog RENTCafé, the average U.S. renter’s credit score was 638 in 2020. Federal reserve data shows one in five Black Americans had a credit score below 620 compared to 1 in 19 white people. In Washington, 6.7% of Black people filed for unemployment between March and August 2020 compared to 3.1% of white people. Credit scores of 700 or higher are considered good or excellent.

A bill, SB 5010, was introduced in the Washington Legislature this year banning insurers’ use of credit scores for determining premiums for auto, homeowners or renters insurance. It failed in committee.

According to data from the King County Bar Association, King County saw some 4,500 evictions, most of which concerned nonpayment. Since the onset of the pandemic, around 450 cases were filed in the state’s most populous county, either over lease violations or due to the owner’s decisions to sell or occupy the property.

Washingtonians can find several rental assistance programs here.

This article was originally posted on Washington state and federal rental protection red tape scrutinized as evictions loom

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