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King County accepting applications for rental assistance before eviction moratorium expires

One-third of people behind on their rent are believed to live in King County, which is working up against a deadline to keep people housed.

SEATTLE — Washington state's eviction moratorium is set to expire in six weeks and experts say they expect to see people evicted -- not because there isn't money for rental help, but because help can't get to people in time.

Gov. Jay Inslee's statewide eviction moratorium has been in place for more than a year and is scheduled to expire on June 30.

U.S. Census data shows 166,712 adults in Washington reported they have slight or no confidence their household could pay rent for the month of April. The Housing Justice Project estimates up to 50,000 of those families are in King County. 

"Very quickly, this COVID crisis can become an eviction crisis, where our homelessness crisis grows even more, and people are living out on the street. So we need to make sure that people stay in their homes," said King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay. 

The county began accepting applications for its Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program on Monday. The program has $145 million in federal funds it can distribute to people who qualify. 

However, the system is designed to randomly select applicants each week and housing advocates worry there isn't enough time to process the thousands of King County applications. 

"If you're getting in the eviction process, you cannot bite your nails and hope that your name gets drawn that week before the eviction happens. And it's not going to do you any good if you get evicted," said Edmund Witter, the managing attorney with the King County Bar Association, which runs the Housing Justice Project. 

Witter estimates it could take between two and three weeks to complete an application. 

Applications for King County's program need to provide a lease, or proof of regular recurring rent payments, prove they are experiencing a financial hardship directly or indirectly due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and prove they are at risk of experiencing homelessness or currently experiencing housing instability. 

Inslee has not indicated whether he would extend the eviction moratorium. Both Witter and Zahilay believe an extension is necessary. 

"We really need Governor Inslee to extend the moratorium because even if the pandemic itself has gone down, the economic consequences of the pandemic will continue to rage on and reverberate throughout the year," said Zahilay. 

Witter said the Housing Justice Project is preparing to help fill a resource gap if the system isn't moving efficiently or if the moratorium isn't extended. 

"I'm worried that June 30 deadline is going to come and people are going to start getting evicted despite the fact we have so much money available," said Witter.