Washington ‘housing stability bridge’ a reform driven by fear of social explosion

On June 24, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced an eviction moratorium ‘bridge.’ The stated aim is to provide renters and landlords with time to access the assistance money that is available to pay back rent owed for the period from Feb. 29, 2020 through July 31, 2021. This bridge ends September 30. According to Inslee’s latest proclamation, there is more than $650 million of federal funding to assist renters. This aid is predicted to be available beginning in July.  

The housing stability “bridge” proclamation includes the following provisions:

  • Landlords and tenants avail themselves of rental assistance and eviction resolution pilot programs pursuant to SB 5160 to resolve any COVID-related past due rent (February 29, 2020 through July 31, 2021);  
  • Tenants take steps to pay rent or avail themselves of rental assistance in order to pay future rent (beginning August 1, 2021 throughout the effective dates of this order);
  • For any tenant who is or becomes in arrears, landlords offer a reasonable repayment plan to tenants per SB 5160; and
  • Tenants respond to notice of funding and other available programs within the time frames established by SB 5160. 

In short, an eviction for non-payment of past due rent is not permitted until such time as the resources and programs established by the Legislature are in place and operational, and eviction for non-payment of future rent (August 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021) is not permitted if the tenant has demonstrably taken action to pay rent.  Evictions for other reasons allowed under state law are permitted.”

How much aid is there in Washington–and how available is it?

As part of the CARES act, there are federally funded resources to help renters, homebuyers and landlords.  The American Rescue Plan provides a minimum of $152 million in “Emergency Rental Assistance” for each state and the District of Columbia. The King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program (EPRAP) states on its web page that it has an allocated budget of $145 million for “paying past, current, and future rent and targeting resources to people in need.” This $145 million is less than the “$650 million for landlord and tenant rental assistance” stated in the Washington state “housing stability ‘bridge’” press release.

Is even $650 million dollars enough to help all Washington renters needing assistance?  

In short, probably not.  

According to the US Census Pulse data, dated May 26 through June 7, 195,307 Washington households reported being behind on the rent as of June 7. If we divide that $650 million by 195,307 we get $3309.09 per renter in Washington who owes rent. According to the Department of Numbers website, the median monthly rent in the state of Washington is $1,359. If the average amount of arrears is more than two months back rent, then even $650 million is not enough.

The ruling class in Washington state is not sure how to solve this problem, and is afraid of a social explosion if they do not do something. The ongoing struggle and the fear of seeing up to 400,000 new homeless people in the state of Washington–where numbers of homeless people have grown faster than in other states- is motivating these interim measures. The current ‘bridge’ measures are slated to end on September 30 of this year. Clearly these are stop gap measures which do not address the underlying issues. 

This crisis brought about by the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to take the profit motive out of providing housing for the general population. Short of achieving socialism, “social housing” supported by government resources has been successfully implemented in many developed countries where a meaningful percent of people live in municipally owned housing. In any event, the story of the impending eviction crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.  

If you are a renter in the state of Washington needing help getting rental assistance the Tenants Union website is a good place to start. See also this infographic from the Housing Justice Project of the state Bar Association that outlines the bridge process for tenants. 

Committed activists need to continue to struggle for the following housing demands: 

  1. House everyone, 
  2. Tax the rich, 
  3. Cancel the back rent and mortgage debt,
  4. Rent control now.  

As we approach the end of the eviction moratorium ‘bridge’ period on September 30, we need to continue to push for as many of these concessions as we can wrestle from the hands of the ruling class.

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