PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Renters in Pierce County have just over a week left until the eviction moratorium ends, which would allow landlords to evict tenants who are past due on their rent and have not applied for assistance.
It’s a scary situation for thousands of households in the county, where the average debt is around $4,200.
More residents in Pierce County owe money to their landlords than anywhere else in the state. According to the US Census Bureau, around 23,000 households in Pierce County owe a combined $93 million in late rent payments.
Seattle extended its city-wide moratorium to allow more time to get assistance funds to those who need them. Would extending the moratorium be the best way to address the debt in Pierce County?
Homeless advocates like Maureen Howard, a senior policy analyst for the Tacoma Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness, said it’s the right thing to do as people continue to suffer.
“We have absolutely no capacity in our homelessness system to have one more person who’s experiencing homelessness," said Howard. "We want to keep everyone housed as long as they are safe, and we can do this. We just need more time.”
Sean Martin, CEO for the Tacoma Pierce County Association of Realtors, doesn’t think the situation in Pierce County requires an extension like in parts of King County.
“Right now, in Pierce County, we’ve seen the distribution of assistance dollars has gone pretty well,” said Martin. “We’ve been doing pretty well. I think around 70% of the assistance dollars have been given out at this point. It’s a totally different situation in King County, where they’re kind of behind the curve.”
After a year-and-a-half of waiting for debts to be paid, Martin said many smaller property owners are walking away from their properties, and extending the moratorium wouldn’t help.
“The market is primed to sell,” said Martin. “There’s not a lot of incentive of a small landlord to get in the game at this point. If you’re not going to get that back rent or if the tenant doesn’t get their application in, they’re probably just going to exit the market.”
Meanwhile, groups advocating for the homeless said county and state officials need to step it up because this is a state-wide emergency.
“We can only deal with one human crisis at a time, and we got a way to deal with the risk of homelessness by getting the eviction moratorium extended,” said Howard. “It shouldn’t be city by city or county by county. The governor should simply do it.”
Renters who need assistance can still file. Those in need can fill out an application on the Pierce County Human Services website here.