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King County council member proposes freeze on rent, mortgage payments

More local officials are calling for a rent and mortgage freeze in Washington. (MyNorthwest)

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly affected millions of people financially due to business closures, layoffs, reduced income, and growing debt. To provide relief, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, along with Councilmember Joanne Kohl-Welles, are asking state and federal governments to enact a freeze on all rent and mortgage payments during this crisis.


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“This is something that the Seattle City Council has already asked our state and federal government to do, as well as dozens of cities around the country,” Zahilay told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “So what we’re doing is amplifying the voices of our constituents who are asking for this, and also adding King County to a list of local governments around the country, a movement to ask for this very urgent need.”

Zahilay said the question we need to be asking is what would happen if rents and mortgage payments are not put on pause.

“So many people get hung up on the legal consequences, and there are certain constitutional prohibitions that people are thinking about. What is the consequence of inaction in this situation?” Zahilay asked.

People have been laid off, small businesses are struggling to keep their doors open, people’s income streams are in question, and then there’s the debt. Even though there is an eviction moratorium in place, any missed payments will still be owed.

“[Just] because somebody doesn’t get evicted doesn’t mean that there isn’t debt piling on, and that debt is waiting for them at the end of this emergency,” Zahilay added.

Then, when it is time to pay, those people will be evicted.

“We’re going to see a spike in homelessness,” he said. “We’re gonna see people losing their homes. We’re gonna see small businesses shutting down. The consequence of inaction is an economic free-fall, the likes of which that maybe we’ve never seen before.”

In Zahilay’s proposal, everyone would qualify for the paused payments — not just renters, but landlords, small businesses, everybody.

“We have an unprecedented public health crisis, and we need to act in an unprecedented way and meet the seriousness of this crisis with the urgency it requires,” Zahilay said.

The hope, Zahilay explained, is that this freeze is “all the way down the line.” He recognizes that there is $1,200 coming to a lot of Americans from the federal government, but said it’s not enough to cover food, rent, and medical expenses.

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“This pause would give people the most basic form of relief, the best form of economic stimulus we can think of,” he said. “And that is keeping people housed and keeping small businesses alive.”

By including the federal government, this resolution is not only asking our state to take action.

“It asks our federal government to take action around mortgages, credit lines, and banks,” Zahilay said. “When I say ‘go all the way,’ I mean go all the way to the level of government that’s self-financing, so that we have the authority to do that.”

“If we implement this, we need to also make sure that comes with comprehensive support for our seniors, for people who are retired,” he added, acknowledging that rent payments are the only source of income for some landlords. “We need to provide as many income streams for people as possible to weather this storm.”

If a rent or mortgage freeze would help you survive this crisis and you want to tell your story to the council, join the conference call Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. at 206-263-8114. For more information, follow @GirmayZahilay on Twitter.

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