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Push to ‘cancel the rent,’ extend moratoriums driven by risk of more homelessness

A woman holds up a "Cancel Rent" sign as she joins others gathering to protest on March 11, 2021, in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

With eviction moratoriums in Washington and in the city of Seattle set to expire at the end of June, some local groups are pushing for the state to cancel rent payments and help people avoid homelessness.

Washington, Seattle eviction moratoriums set to expire at end of June

Reverend Bianca Davis-Lovelace represents the Washington Poor People’s Campaign, and is part of the Cancel the Rent Coalition. The group is hosting a rally and march Saturday at Othello Park.

“Right now, across the country, there are 140 million people who are in poverty,” Davis-Lovelace told KIRO Nights. “… Because of COVID, I’m sure that number has skyrocketed, period.”

“This event that we’re putting on Saturday at 12 p.m. in Othello Park is called ‘Cancel the Rent,’ and many people tend to be a little shocked by that particular title,” she said. “But what we’re saying is two things — one, we need the governor to extend the rent moratorium because there are thousands and thousands of people across the state who are at risk of becoming homeless if that is not taken care of, if that is not extended.”

“And then another thing that we’re also advocating for is that the governor cancels the rent,” she continued. “And when we say cancel the rent, we’re talking about people who are in literally double digits behind in rent because of COVID. This is a situation that was no fault of their own.”

Davis-Lovelace says a lot of these people are working low-wage jobs that do not necessarily pay a livable wage, especially in an expensive part of the country.

“Another thing is that right now, Washington, specifically King County, is third in the nation for homelessness,” she said. “So we already have a homelessness problem. If this is not taken care of, if rent is not canceled, and if the governor does not extend the rent moratorium, then we are at risk of having an … explosion of homelessness on our hands, literally.”

She also recognizes that a lot of people are worried about the landlords if the moratorium is extended as they’re unable to collect rent that’s owed to them.

“My thing is this, is that the government should find some money in order to compensate the landlords for the back rent that that is owed to them,” Davis-Lovelace said in response. “But I think that if you do not cancel the rent, and you have all these different folks and families all across the state dealing with possibly being homeless, now not only is the back rent a problem, but when they do try to seek housing in the in the future, that debt will be on their credit.”

“So how will they be able to seek other shelter in the midst of it? They did not ask for their jobs to go away, they did not ask for a pandemic to hit them, so this is something that was out of their control. We should not punish people for something that was completely out of their control,” she added. “And, frankly, I feel if our government would have [had] a better response in the very beginning, we wouldn’t even be in this problem.”

Renters urged to get help now before eviction moratoriums expire

For those that disagree with Davis-Lovelace on this issue, she told host Jack Stine that she challenges them to live on less than $15 an hour.

“Take a challenge for the next couple of months and live off of less than $15 an hour,” she said. “And I want to see exactly how much they will be able to afford rent, how much they will be able to afford food, how much they will be able to afford clothing.”

Don’t rely on savings, she says, as those working for minimum wage are often unable to save, especially in a place where cost of living is pretty high.

“Overall, I would challenge them, if you think you have all the answers, I want you to live off of less than $15 an hour,” she said. “I want to see exactly how much you would survive, especially in a pandemic when even that $15 an hour — $15 or less — job was taken away for a little while. How do you expect a person to feed their family when they’re already in the state of struggling?”

The Cancel the Rent rally and march is on Saturday, June 5, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Othello Park.

Listen to KIRO Nights with Jack Stine weeknights from 7 p.m. – 10p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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