With that in mind, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday calling on Gov. Jay Inslee and the federal government to impose an immediate moratorium on rent and mortgage payments as workers are laid off amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 133,000 Washingtonians filed for unemployment benefits from March 15-21, up from just over 14,000 the week before, according to the Employment Security Department, as the state’s moves to blunt the spread of the novel coronavirus virus got more and more restrictive.
King County residents accounted for 37,296 of the jobless claims that week. More than 41,000 were in the accommodation and food services industry.
“All of us as a council is eager to make sure that we’re protecting our neighbors,” council member Tammy Morales said, adding she’s been getting hundreds of emails from worried constituents. Morales, the sponsor of the resolution, also said this effort is in tandem with legislators across the country, from San Francisco to Boston, who are working on similar measures to push federal lawmakers to act.
Last week, CHS reported on District 3’s Kshama Sawant calling for a COVID-19 rent freeze to combat “shockingly unconscionable” rent increases. Monday, she said a petition in support of the movement had over 6,300 signatures calling on Inslee to immediately suspend rent payments.
“Elected officials have a moral and political duty to ensure the burden of this serious crisis does not land on the same working people and marginalized communities who are already struggling under ‘normal’ periods of capitalism,” Sawant wrote in a letter to Inslee on Thursday. “It would be criminal to allow landlords to carry out rent increases during this pandemic, leading to further evictions and putting public welfare and health at grave risk.”
Monday, the resolution passed with Sawant unable to participate in the initial vote thanks to a momentary technological blip. The council held its session via teleconference, joining thousands of workers across the region under COVID-19 “work from home” restrictions. The District 3 representative said later that a technical difficulty prevented her from voting and that she was able to add her support.
Mayor Jenny Durkan previously ordered a 60-day moratorium on evictions in both residential and commercial properties because of nonpayment of rent amid the coronavirus, which as of Sunday has over 2,100 cases in King County and caused 141 deaths, according to health officials. Renters, at this point in the crisis, are still obligated to pay landlords and the same goes for mortgage-holders and lenders.
But tenants advocates say that won’t be enough amid the financial and health impact of the crisis.
According to the council’s non-binding resolution. 47% of Seattleites are considered rent burdened, so keeping the obligation to eventually pay rent despite these circumstances would mean that those who choose to defer payments would incur significant debt.
Monday’s session was held via videoconference
“If I don’t pay rent for four months, especially in Seattle where rent is $2,000, there’s no way that that accumulated debt is something I will ever be able to pay off,” Morales said, describing what she’s heard from constituents recently. She noted that the resolution has the support of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents Capitol Hill in Congress.
Council member Alex Pedersen had concerns about the legislation forgiving rent payments during the pandemic, instead of simply pushing them back when renters will be receiving “relief from other angles,” but voted in favor of the resolution.
District 6 council member Dan Strauss added an amendment to include provisions in the resolution for a moratorium on property taxes and insurance payments that cover one’s home or business.
“Beyond rent and mortgage, we also need to be aware that insurance policies need to maintain coverage despite a person’s ability to pay this month if they were laid off or for other economic reasons,” Strauss said in the Monday afternoon hearing via video conference, “as well as property tax for some folks may be the final straw that breaks their back during this moment.”
The amendment passed unanimously. King County also extended its spring property tax payment deadline on Monday to June 1 from the original April 30th due date for individual taxpayers
Meanwhile, council members Lisa Herbold and Morales are also pushing an ordinance for commercial rent control that places a moratorium on increasing rents and provides for a payment plan for late rent for small businesses and nonprofits. This follows Durkan’s state of emergency proclamation early this month and would last as long as the declaration remains in place.
Many small businesses, defined as those with fewer than 50 employees, and nonprofits have been forced to close or significantly scale back their operations as COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the industry. This bill aims to provide them temporary relief from these pressures.
The measure would also place a moratorium on rent increases under a new or renewed lease. And for the six months after the emergency, the bill holds that, if a small business or nonprofit is unable to pay rent, the landlord and tenant shall negotiate a payment plan.
The ordinance requires the plan provide for a full repayment of past due rent within a year, but also says the plan must not require that one-third of past due rent be due in any single month.
The legislation has not yet been heard by the council, but is on the agenda for early April. It needs approval from three-fourths of the council to pass.
- 5/4/20: COVID-19 updates: Phase 1 begins, what’s in Phase 2 (and 3 and 4), King County removes antibody testing case counts, COVID-19 yard art
- 5/1/20: Washington extends COVID-19 restrictions through May, readies ‘four phase’ plan for reopening with limits on groups, restaurant capacity, and travel
- 4/30/20: Washington investigating state totals after COVID-19 ‘excess deaths’ report
- 4/30/20: Facing opposition from mayor and chamber advocates, Seattle tax on big businesses for COVID-19 relief and housing moves toward May vote
- Plus: Capitol Hill Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes offering takeout during COVID-19 ‘stay home’ restrictions
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