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Almost half of minority renters in the Seattle-Tacoma area not confident in ability to pay, study says

Numbers show the Puget Sound area has some of the highest rates of minority renters not feeling confident about their ability to pay rent.

TACOMA, Wash. — Data collected from the Census Bureau shows a disturbing trend in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area.

Almost half of the area’s minority renters don’t feel confident that they can pay their rent.

The data was collected by Construction Coverage, and it shows that:

  • 14.8% of minority renters are behind on their payments.
  • 47.4% of minority renters lack confidence in their ability to pay.
  • 41% of minority renters are facing a likelihood of eviction.

Tacoma City Councilmember Kiara Daniels says the numbers aren’t surprising. 

“We’ve known since the beginning of time that the effects of redlining would leave the Black community cost-burdened and vulnerable to increases in housing costs all across the market,” she said in a statement. “As soon as we begin to disaggregate data we find the disproportionate reality for people of color as it pertains to homeownership, rental costs, and homelessness.”

Although the pandemic may have worsened the trend, Rachael Myers, Executive Director from the WA Low Income Housing Alliance, says it didn’t start there.

“People of color are more likely to be renters, because of lots of policies and ways that we’ve excluded people, particularly Black and African Americans folks from purchasing homes,” she explained. “They have a much lower homeownership rate, so there are just a lot more renters who’re families of color.”

Many renters are also dealing with rising rents since the end of the eviction moratorium, Myers said. It's an issue the state can't address currently.

“We need to somehow rein in the severe rent increases that people are seeing that are driving more and more houses, particularly households of color, from being able to pay their rent,” she said. “Washington state has no current ability to put any kind of limit on rent increases.”

Data from Pierce County shows that its rental assistance programs were effective in helping people hold onto their housing and avoid evictions.

But Laurie Davenport, Director of Development and Outreach for TacomaProBono Community Lawyers, is concerned about how long this funding will last.

“We’re going to run out of the COVID money, sometime this summer, in terms of what’s available for rental assistance,” she said. “I know the county is working on a permanent rental assistance program, but we don’t know what the criteria will be for that yet, right now, everything has been COVID-related.”

Davenport also says that as rents continue to rise out of reach, many minority communities that were struggling to hold on could be displaced.

“We started the pandemic with minority communities with their foot in the hole, and it just got a whole lot worse because of the pandemic,” she said. “Here in Tacoma, we have a history of redlining, we have segregation that was here for a long time, and I think we’re continuing to follow those patterns as property values continue to rise and property in the city becomes more valuable. I’m seeing people when I go out to talk to people and do intakes for our program. People say, I’m caught up, I’m ok, but I have to move.”

Tacoma says more affordable housing is on the way, but Myers says it’s vital that communities have a say in the process in order for it to be truly effective.

“Making sure that housing that’s being built is actually being controlled by communities of color and being controlled by the people in the communities that are most impacted will make a difference,” she said.

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