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Gee & Ursula: Why extending eviction moratoriums could actually hurt renters

An apartment building in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. (MyNorthwest photo)

Seattle renters are going to get a lot of support, thanks to three bills that city councilmembers say will help them stay in their homes.

One establishes a defense against evictions during each school year for anyone who works at a school, as well as families with students. The second bill requires landlords to offer new leases to tenants before their existing ones expire, and before they can try to find a new renter. The third bill would prevent landlords from kicking anyone out if they couldn’t pay their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, for which tenants would need to sign declarations affirming that they suffered financial hardships.

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In addition to these bills, the city council passed a measure calling on Governor Inslee and Mayor Jenny Durkan to extend city and state-level eviction moratoriums, which are set to expire at the end of June.

“Renters are facing a dire situation, both in terms of keeping up with the current rent, not to mention the debt that they have been forced to accumulate,” Councilmember Kshama Sawant said.

But KIRO Radio’s Gee Scott does not think eviction moratoriums should be extended to the end of 2021.

“I am all about helping tenants that need help, you guys know that. You guys send me messages all the time, like ‘Gee, you always want to give people money,'” he said. “But these efforts to possibly extend this moratorium will only come back to hurt the people that don’t make a lot of money.”

“Let me go into that,” he continued. “Who’s now going to take a chance on some of these folks that are going to need to rent a place? Some of these landlords — not the big ones like you always talk about, not them — we’re talking about those that have one home, two homes maybe renting out, and they’re older now, and this is some of their income. Now are they going to take the chance on somebody because of going through what we’ve gone through this in pandemic? No.”

Gee says landlords will probably be less likely to take a chance on someone who may just be doing the best they can, which could in turn mean that instead of just asking for the first month’s rent as a deposit, “now you might be asked for first month, last month, and a bigger deposit.”

“Also, landlords are now selling homes during this hot market because now they’re saying, ‘you know what, tenants, as soon as your lease is up, I am going to be selling that house.’ Now, what’s going to happen to that tenant? That tenant now has to go back out here in the rental market,” Gee said. “Maybe they’ve been in this home for five or six years and their rent has been good because the landlord and tenant relationship has been good, but other people are going to suffer these consequences because of extending these moratoriums.”

Ursula Reutin agreed, pointing out that there are a lot of landlords selling right now.

“And as much as I love teachers and kids, the bill that exempts every school employee from eviction for just about any reason goes too far,” she added. “And I ask you, why are they focusing on school employees and teachers, … what about nurses, for that matter?”

Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez were the lone “no” votes on these bills. Pedersen had proposed amendments, one of which would have exempted the small mom-and-pop landlords Gee was talking about, but each of his amendments were rejected.

“Again I want to say, we care about teachers, of course we care about children, but every time you do something that goes all the way in one direction, you’re always going to harm the other,” Ursula said. “And in this case, like [Gee] said, why not go for a much more targeted approach so the right people get the right help?”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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