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Concerns about rent and mortgage payments during coronavirus crisis in Washington

Rent is due this week. With widespread layoffs and questions about how to pay the bills, tenants and landlords are bracing for months of financial difficulties.

Rent is due this week. With widespread layoffs and questions about how to pay the bills, tenants and landlords are bracing for months of financial difficulties.

Julie Davis is a rideshare driver in Seattle and hasn’t been able to work in two weeks because she contracted pneumonia. It meant she had to have a tough conversation with her landlord, that she wouldn't be able to pay this month.

“Very tough conversation,” she said. “Because my landlord is an incredible person. And none of us deserve what we’re going through.”

She's glad for a safety net from evictions during the pandemic, but worries about costs piling up she still won't be able to pay afterward. She's worried about making her car payment, which is critical for restoring her income. 

“Once the car goes, their income goes,” she said of rideshare drivers. “Once the income goes, how will they make rent? So it’s just creating a vicious circle of soon to be more homelessness. How are people barely making it supposed to pay back rent and utilities?”

An Instagram account called RentStrike206 is compiling stories from renters worried about how they'll pay for housing as the coronavirus ravages not only lives, but also the economy.

"It should come as no surprise that in this moment, people simply cannot pay,” the group wrote on its website.

“We're very concerned about people staying healthy and staying housed,” said Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute, a non-profit provider of affordable housing.

“Of course we are not going to be charging late fees or putting pressure on people. I think where we can do payments, then we will try and figure out a payment plan,” she said.

But property owners still must pay mortgages, utility bills, and taxes.

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Kyle Woodring is Director of Government Affairs at the Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents landlords. They’re calling for mortgage relief for property owners and rental subsidies for tenants.

“We feel like if you can get rental subsidies into tenants' hands, and then they can make their rental payments, that's the best way to keep mortgages healthy and keep the properties healthy and operating,” Woodring said.

He said subsidies would require a massive influx of money from the federal government, and that's still a big question mark right now.

The Seattle City Council passed a non-binding resolution this week calling on state and federal officials to cancel rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic.

Councilmember Tammy Morales joined leaders from cities across the country in renewing that call on a Zoom call Wednesday.

“We have to keep our neighbors, our constituents safe from what many have already acknowledged will be the ravages of an economic crisis that’s coming,” she said. “And really – it puts peoples’ lives at risk.”

Woodring said he thinks landlords and tenants will be able to figure out payments for a month or two, but that'll become increasingly difficult as the coronavirus crisis worsens.

“Everybody's stressed and concerned because there's so much unknown right now,” he said.

Resources

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan enacted a 60-day moratorium on residential evictions on March 3 as the coronavirus outbreak grew. On March 18, Gov. Jay Inslee followed suit, enacting a 30-day moratorium for the rest of the state.

In Seattle city limits, renters are protected from evictions for both non-payment and other non-compliances during this crisis. And landlords also can't charge you late fees that would have accrued from not paying.

Here are just a few resources that tenants can turn to if they need assistance: 

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