Following the lead of Seattle, Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced a new three-month eviction moratorium, with exceptions, to replace an existing moratorium set to expire on June 30. The new expiration date will be Sept. 30.
Inslee described his new proclamation as a “bridge” until rental assistance programs are fully up and running and new tenant protections passed by the Legislature — including the right to a lawyer for indigent tenants and a new eviction resolution pilot program — go into effect.
“This bridge is necessary to protect against homelessness for people while these plans are put into implementation," Inslee said at a news conference.
But the new moratorium won't provide blanket protection from eviction.
For example, starting on Aug. 1 renters are expected to pay rent or be actively seeking rental assistance. So long as that is happening, landlords can’t proceed with eviction. But if tenants don’t take one of those two actions, landlords will be allowed to proceed with a lawful eviction so long as they’ve offered their tenant a “reasonable” repayment plan and provided them a written list of the supports available to tenants.
The new proclamation also says that landlords can’t proceed with an eviction until rent assistance and eviction resolution programs are up and running in their county.
Unlike the previous eviction moratorium, the new order from Inslee exempts hotels and motels, short-term rentals, long-term care facilities and other non-traditional housing.
Inslee emphasized that the new proclamation is not an extension of the previous moratorium.
“These are reasonable steps to provide a bridge to the fully functioning programs that the Legislature fashioned; they're fair I think both to tenants and landlords," Inslee said.
Republican state lawmakers quickly lambasted Inslee's announcement. State Rep. Michelle Caldier characterized Inslee's proclamation as a "distasteful" unilateral decision.
"If we wait any longer, tenants will face even bigger financial challenges — without adequate support — and so will housing providers. Many of these providers are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in arrears, and financial assistance programs will not adequately cover their expenses if the moratorium continues much longer," Caldier said in a written statement.
The state estimates that between 80,000 and 150,000 renters — or up to 15 percent of renters — in Washington are behind on their rent.
Since the start of the pandemic, the state has appropriated $1.1 billion in mostly federal relief dollars for rent assistance. Of that, the Washington Department of Commerce has so far released approximately $500 million to local governments. As of the end of May, $127 million had been paid out in rent assistance to landlords for roughly 28,000 households.
The remainder of the money will become available after July 1 when the new fiscal year begins. But Inslee said it will take time to process applications and issue payments.
“To be clear, local government has a difficult task in receiving and processing so many applications for rental assistance,” Inslee said in his remarks. He emphasized that the state is relying on local governments and nonprofits to ensure the money gets out the door and into the hands of those who need it.
Under the state’s rental assistance program, either landlords or tenants can initiate an application.
Inslee has been under pressure from tenant advocates and others to extend the eviction moratorium.
In a letter sent last week, the Legislature’s Black Members Caucus said if the moratorium was allowed to expire it would have a disproportionate impact on families of color.
“To borrow the governor’s metaphor, we’re at the two-yard line. Now is not the time for us to leave families without this crucial safety net,” said Democratic state Rep. Jamila Taylor, the chair of the Black Members Caucus, in a statement.
Also Thursday, the Biden administration announced a final, one-month extension of a federal eviction moratorium. As estimated 6.4 million households nationwide had past due rent as of March, according to the Associated Press.
Last week, the city of Seattle extended its eviction moratorium until Sept.30.
This story has been updated to clarify how much rent assistance had been paid and how many households have benefited as of the end of May.