SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on Governor Jay Inslee, federal legislators, and the White House administration to place a moratorium on rent and mortgage payments for homes and businesses.
The resolution was introduced by Councilmember Tammy Morales who represents District 2, South Seattle and the CID.
“I hate to say it, but we’re in for several months or longer of people being in crisis,” said Morales. “We need to make sure that our mom-and-pop business owners, our neighbors down the street, your sister who just got laid off are also getting the relief they need to weather this crisis.”
Jasper Rose started the Facebook page “Seattle Rent Strike,” after seeing an international movement of people calling for financial aid after losing their ability to earn income.
The council modified and then approved Durkan’s order, extending the moratorium from 30 to 60 days and from rent-related residential evictions to all residential evictions other than those related to tenant actions imminently threatening the health or safety of others. The council’s vote was 8-0, according to the City Clerk’s office.
The moratorium modified by the council covers residential evictions related to leases that have expired or will expire during the coronavirus emergency, and it asks the King County Sheriff’s Office to cease execution of evictions for the time being.
Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht announced Tuesday that her office was suspending the service and enforcement of evictions countywide “until further notice.”
Seattle tenants must continue making rent payments, to the extent they can, and those struggling should work with their landlords on payment plans, Durkan has said. But Seattle’s moratorium prohibits late fees. When the moratorium ends, tenants will owe whatever debts they’ve incurred and landlords will be allowed to evict them for nonpayment.
For existing eviction cases, Seattle’s moratorium should be a defense in court. For eviction hearings already scheduled, the city’s order says the court may postpone those cases to a date after the emergency.
Council members initially considered extending the city’s evictions moratorium to commercial properties, and they held a private session Monday to discuss legal questions, the clerk’s office said. They ultimately decided to not deal with commercial properties Monday, but Durkan’s office has been working on a plan to suspend evictions for small businesses and nonprofits, her office said.
In a resolution accompanying the moratorium order Monday, the council asked Durkan to consider using her emergency powers to increase funding for rent-assistance programs and to provide relief to small businesses and nonprofits struggling to pay their rent and their workers.
“We have been mandated to stay home, but still required to pay our bills and our rent,” said Rose. “Those that are living paycheck to paycheck don’t have any of that wiggle room. We don’t have a cushion. We don’t have that savings.”
Amy Wolf is a licensed massage therapist and runs Westwood Healing Arts.
“I cannot do massage over Zoom,” said Wolf. “Acupuncturists, chiropractors and massage therapists are still allowed to practice now but most of us are choosing to shut down because we don’t want to be responsible for hurting anyone.” Wolf said her landlord is giving her two weeks to come up with funds to pay rent. So, she’s considering a job at Safeway since the grocer is hiring.
“What I can do is put my life at risk and put myself on the front line and get some income,” said Wolf.
The Seattle resolution calls for a rent freeze, so all rent due is forgiven. It calls for that same kind of relief with mortgage payments.
According to city officials, nearly 50 percent of Seattle area renters are rent-burdened, which means they are experiencing a loss of income and accumulating significant amounts of personal debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morales said this is a nationwide effort, with elected leaders in California and New York also calling for housing relief for renters, landlords, and homeowners.