Dear Olympia, Housing Recovery is COVID Recovery

Posted By: Brett Waller Advocacy News ,

As legislators convene for a historic 2021 legislative session, we urge them to make housing access, affordability, and market health a top priority.

Much focus is on how COVID-19 impacts residents’ ability to pay rent. Similarly, amidst reduced income, many housing providers continue to struggle to meet their financial obligations – as well as the needs of their residents – due to orders that essentially require them to provide housing for free.

There are policies that can help residents and housing providers immediately while laying the groundwork for Washington’s long-term recovery. On the flip side, there are some proposed ideas that would hurt our already fragile housing market and negatively impact housing access and affordability.

We need policies and relief that stabilize the rental housing market while positioning Washington for a recovery supported by healthy housing. We are committed to working closely with policymakers and all stakeholders to educate and advocate for policies that are in the best interest of our community.

How the Legislature Should Support Housing

Post-Eviction Moratorium Policy: A proposed bill (HB 1228) by Representative Barkis is a strong start to support Washington’s housing recovery. In response to COVID-19, the bill provides a framework to support both residents and housing providers. Most importantly, it facilitates an effective transition out of the current eviction moratorium while reducing hardship and debt. Specifically, the bill aims to:

  • Create and maintain healthy and safe rental communities.
  • Provide access to robust rental assistance to aid in the relief and recovery from the economic crisis the COVID-19 pandemic has created.
  • Build stability for residents directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain their homes through direct access to substantial rental assistance resources provided by the State and Federal Government.
  • Make available dispute resolution specialists across Washington state to assist in conversations and communication between housing providers and residents.

Rental Assistance: Rental assistance is a proven way to help keep people in their homes while ensuring that housing providers can meet their obligations to banks and avoid foreclosure. As these challenges continue, we face the risk of smaller housing providers selling their properties, taking naturally occurring affordable homes off the market. This needs to be a top priority to keep Washington housed.

We recommend that rental assistance funding is focus on:

  • Covering 2020 rental arrears to eliminate resident debt and prevent foreclosure of rental homes.
  • Assist residents in providing rental assistance in 2021 while they return to the employment.
  • Open business support programs to housing providers.

Further, rental assistance programs should increase access to much-needed support, not create more hurdles for renters and housing providers. Many people don’t realize that current rental assistance programs in Washington often require an eviction to be filed before someone is eligible for funding. We support programs that get funding into the hands of those who need it before having to file an eviction action, without having to accumulate months of debt.

Pathways to Common Ground: All stakeholders must work together to identify processes, programs, and solutions to help residents and housing providers address rental debt. We also must facilitate open lines of communication between residents and housing providers so they can find solutions.

Avoid Policies That Make It Harder to Provide and Create Housing

Just Cause: Under Just Cause, a housing provider is limited in terminating abusive, criminal, or disruptive residents. And an unfortunate impact of the eviction moratorium has been a sharp uptick in behavior issues and lease violations in apartment communities. While the well-intentioned system regulates lease agreements between housing providers and tenants, it only puts good residents at-risk by limiting a property owner’s ability to address problem occupants and instill safety in the apartment community. Efforts to restrict the limited tools housing providers have available to them to address abusive, disruptive or criminal behavior does not address the underlying problems we are working to solve, economic recovery to a COVID-19 crisis. Just Cause policies take us backward, and policymakers should prioritize safety and support for property owners to provide quality housing.

Fees, and other Restrictions:  The cumulative effect of federal, state, county, and city policies – often overlapping –reduces the ability to provide affordable housing and create new housing. Policymakers need to consider the totality of laws at all levels that impact affordability and housing creation.