As The Brookings Institute observes, “the COVID-19 crisis seems poised to accelerate or intensify many economic and metropolitan trends that were already underway, with huge implications of their own.” This includes the housing affordability crisis which disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color. A report from the Urban Institute found that “Black and Latino people have been hardest hit by stay-at-home orders and other public health measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 because of a legacy of occupational segregation that has led to them being overrepresented in low-wage jobs and in jobs that can’t transition to remote work.” This means that we are not only facing the highest unemployment figures since the Great Depression but also compounding economic inequalities. These economic consequences lead directly to the inability of many people to pay rent. Jay Inslee may have extended the eviction moratorium in Washington until August 1st, but with accumulating arrears this order is only a temporary measure to stave off a wave of looming evictions. We must fight to change this outlook.
Rent payments not only keep people housed, but maintain the integrity of the whole housing ecosystem. Our partner, Up for Growth points out that “rent payments are not an isolated transfer directly from renters to landlords, but instead underpin an entire marketplace of landlords, property management staff, maintenance crews, and local contractors.” Rent payments then go on to maintain local governments through property taxes which represent, on average, 47% of local government general fund revenue. Missed rent payments will also jeopardize the integrity of financial markets that are needed to fund the construction of new housing. Losing new housing construction means fewer jobs and fewer homes when we need them— two fundamental ingredients to a thriving society. This outlook is also not tolerable.
Seattle for Everyone believes that bold and thoughtful housing action is still needed in Olympia and Seattle; we will continue to advocate at home. In light of the current situation, however, we must also pivot and advocate at the federal-level. The federal government is among the only institutions with the resources and authority to address the deepening needs in our community. This federal response should start by ensuring that affected people can stay housed during and after the emergency by paying rent. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the HEROES Act, which can provide meaningful emergency rental assistance through the included Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act. We urge the U.S. Senate to act as well.
This near-term relief should be followed by additional federal legislation to increase housing resources and decrease barriers to building affordable homes where we need them. The time to act is now.
See our letter to Senator Maria Cantwell urging support of the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act: