Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan extended the city’s eviction moratorium until the end of June on Monday when the city council paused law guaranteeing an attorney for anyone at risk of eviction if the moratorium is lifted.
The eviction moratorium applies to residential buildings as well as to non-profit organizations and small businesses. The first implementation last spring after the pandemic has been in place for more than a year as the city tries to stave off a potential wave of displacements of people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
Durkan last week announced plans to spend nearly $ 23 million on newly available state aid to city renters, which is part of last year’s COVID-19 relief packages. More rental support funds will be available soon after President Joe Biden’s US bailout plan was passed last week, Durkan’s office said.
“Seattle residents and businesses continue to feel the economic impact of this pandemic and we will not recover successfully if we fail to address the recreational needs of low-income communities and small businesses,” Durkan said in a prepared statement. “The extension of the eviction moratorium offers our neighbors living stability as soon as new federal funds arrive.”
Seattle City Council had been ready to pass a non-binding resolution calling on Durkan to extend the moratorium, but held back after Durkan extended the measure to June 30.
The city council was due to vote on Monday on laws that would provide a lawyer free of charge to any tenant facing eviction. Instead, a divided city council voted 6-3 to postpone the decision by two weeks.
Councilor Kshama Sawant, the main sponsor of the Right to Legal Advice Act, accused her colleagues of working to include means test requirements in the bill and possibly creating an income threshold to determine who would qualify for an attorney.
“My suspicion is that you are delaying it because you want to make it weaker,” she said.
However, most of the council members who voted for a delay said they support the measure and intend to vote for it, but fear that it will face legal challenges.
“They will sue and come after like they came after everything else,” said councilor Andrew Lewis, co-sponsor of the legislation, supporting a delay.
Council President M. Lorena González said she saw memoranda from the city’s Legal Department raising “significant concerns” about the bill as it stands.
González cited the constitution’s prohibition on “gifts of public funds”, which discourages cities from giving money to individuals “except to provide necessary assistance to the poor and infirm.” The Washington Multi-Family Housing Association, which represents landlords, raised similar concerns earlier this month.
She said she would hold a private “executive meeting” of the council so they could discuss the potential legal issues.
No source of funding is specified in the legislation and estimates of the cost of providing legal services to tenants exposed to eviction are rough. City council officials estimate that it would cost an additional $ 400,000 to $ 500,000 per year to provide legal assistance for those in need of eviction, although similar actions in other cities have cost significantly more.
Supporters argue that this would have a huge impact if people stayed in their homes who might otherwise become homeless.
A previously unpublished study by the Housing Justice Project of evictions in Seattle in 2019 found that 52% of renters with lawyers were able to stay in their homes during their evictions, while 8% of those without representation stayed in their homes.
A 2018 report by the city and the Housing Justice Project that examined more than 1,200 evictions in Seattle in 2017 found that more than half of all evictions were for one month’s rent or less.