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Landlords, advocates fear housing market, courts not ready for wave of evictions

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Tenants, landlords, and housing advocates fear that the Spokane area’s supply of affordable housing may not survive the pandemic.

They are pleading for rental assistance and other measures as a way to transition out of the eviction moratorium.

Steve Corker is worried about what’s going to happen when landlords regain their right to evict tenants who have fallen behind during the pandemic.

“In the city of Spokane there are in the neighborhood of about 1,400 families that if the moratorium were to be lifted immediately without any government action would be in some form of the eviction crisis,” Corker said. “That would overwhelm the courts, overwhelm the housing market and overwhelm the homeless shelters. Quite frankly, that just can’t be allowed to happen.”

Corker is president of the Inland Northwest Landlord’s Association. He said both tenants and landlords need access to every source of help available. He said the current rental assistance in the Spokane region, $9 million at the County and $6 million at the city, will likely not be enough to pay back the amount of collective back rent owed in this region.

Corker said he anticipates the state legislature will intervene before the Governor’s eviction moratorium ends. The moratorium is set to expire March 31st.

There are several bills in the legislature that address the looming eviction crisis.

But there’s little certainty about what will make it through the legislative process.

Keith Kelly is a Spokane landlord and a board member for the affordable housing non-profit Spokane Housing Ventures. He said during the pandemic about 30% of tenants have not paid their rent.

He’s also looking for the state to provide a way out of the eviction moratorium.

“It’s not very specific and applies to basically any situation where a landlord functionally is not able to manage expectations as they’re outlined in a lease or a rental contract,” Kelly said.

He said mediation and support are needed, or much of the region’s affordable housing could disappear.

“Anything we can do to mitigate the problem should absolutely be considered. The devil’s in the details of course,” Kelly said.

Terri Anderson is the Executive Director of the Spokane branch of the Tenant’s Union of Washington State. She said a combination of both rental assistance and legislation would be needed to protect tenants and landlords as the state emerges from the pandemic.

“If all of this legislation with the mediation, and the right to council, and we get the rental assistance, it could work, it really could. We could keep people in their homes and they could go back to work,” Anderson said.

Anderson is tracking several bills currently being considered by the Washington State Legislature and said she supports Senate Bill 5160, which she calls a safe off ramp to the eviction moratorium.

That would require the state to pay for legal representation for indigent defendants taken to eviction court, and protect tenants from landlords terminating their lease. It also allows landlords to directly apply for rental assistance themselves. It’s currently in committee.

More rental assistance could also soon be coming to the Spokane region. On Friday, Governor Jay Inslee signed a COVID-19 relief bill which included $365 million for rent and utility assistance. The state has not yet announced how much of that assistance will come to Eastern Washington.