District 3 representative Kshama Sawant says she wants to build on the victory of her push for a ban on residential evictions during the COVID-19 crisis to protect Seattle renters and tenants across the state from “shockingly unconscionable” rent increases.
In a letter this week to Gov. Jay Inslee, Sawant calls for “a statewide rent freeze through the end of the year.”
“As vulnerable renters in Seattle and Washington state struggle to cope with the COVID19 pandemic, many are starting to receive notices for rent increases from their corporate landlords,” Sawant writes. “Constituents have reported this both to my office and to the Tenants Union of Washington State. This is shockingly unconscionable.”
Sawant says rents should remain frozen longer “if the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis continues in 2021.”
The full letter is below.
Earlier this month, Mayor Jenny Durkan included orders restricting residential and commercial evictions in her response to the outbreak. In her letter, Sawant says “an organized movement of renters” forced the 60-day moratorium and a 30-day statewide restriction.
In her letter, Sawant does not specifically identify buildings or management companies increasing rents. CHS has collected information on a few examples of increases but renters have also told us about rents that have remained unchanged and two buildings where rent has been decreased to help tenants during COVID-19. At another, the national management company has opted to hold a drawing to award rent breaks to three “lucky” tenants.
One tenant contacted CHS about an increase — about 4% per month starting on June 1st” — in a Capitol Hill Housing building. “Capitol Hill Housing periodically increases rents at our apartment buildings. Often these increases do not fully cover the increasing costs of operating our buildings,” a spokesperson tells CHS. “We’re very sensitive to the financial challenges many of our residents are facing, particularly at this time. We have a long-standing rental assistance fund that residents in need can apply to.”
This week, the affordable housing provider says it is launching “a COVID-19 Resilience Fund that will raise vital funds to support our residents and commercial tenants.”
UPDATE 1:20 PM: Capitol Hill Housing tells CHS it is backing off any planned increases. “We will not be increasing rents for the remainder of the year at CHH buildings,” a spokesperson said. “At the same time, we have been working to raising funds for a COVID-19 resilience fund. Today we’ve raised over $250,000 and are looking to swiftly deploy support for those in need.”
Meanwhile, a $2 trillion federal relief package is moving forward in Washington D.C. and was approved by Congress Friday.
In her letter, Sawant also calls on Inslee to suspend all rent, mortgage, and utility payments for “as long as the pandemic lasts.”
UPDATE: This won’t help its residential tenants, but Vulcan Real Estate joined other large developers and the City of Seattle in announcing a break for its commercial tenants:
Vulcan Real Estate on Friday announced that it would not collect rent from its small business retail and nonprofit tenants for the month of April 2020 in response to the challenges they are facing given the COVID-19 pandemic. “As a long-standing Seattle-based developer, we are part of the community that is navigating this extraordinarily difficult time,” said Ada M. Healey, chief real estate officer of Vulcan Inc. “We hope this action will help these small businesses weather the next phase of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.”
We’ll see if breaks for residential tenants are coming.
UPDATE 2:30 PM: South Seattle council rep Tammy Morales will introduce a resolution Monday calling for a moratorium on commercial and residential rent and mortgage payments, “providing necessary relief to thousands of Seattle residents and business owners struggling with the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis.”
Morales has heard from many constituents who are concerned about their economic futures should renters, homeowners, property owners, and business owners not see a rent and mortgage moratorium soon. “Since this crisis started, nearly every one of my constituents that I’ve heard from has asked for this. They’re saying the City’s existing 60-day moratorium on evictions doesn’t go far enough to ensure their financial future and ability to remain housed within the city. We already have a public health crisis on our hands, we can’t add to it by creating a housing and homelessness crisis,” Morales said. “The City, state and federal government must do everything it can to ensure Seattleites aren’t heading from a public health emergency into a depression accruing massive amounts of debt. We must stop this economic freefall now, rather than kicking this can down the road. Otherwise we’ll see an increase in evictions, foreclosures, and permanent loss of important cultural spaces as soon as the immediate crisis is over, causing another wave of economic crises for families across the city.”
Morales’s resolution will go before the Full City Council on Monday during its regularly-scheduled 2 PM meeting.
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