Organizations in Yakima County are working to distribute financial assistance to renters who are behind on rent ahead of Sept. 30, when evictions for nonpayment will again be allowed in Washington.
The state’s eviction moratorium expired June 30, but Gov. Jay Inslee issued a housing stability “bridge” emergency order to extend some protections until the end of September.
The bridge was intended to allow protections against eviction while the government distributes rental assistance funds and sets up other housing recovery programs, Inslee said.
Renters cannot be evicted for nonpayment of past rent until assistance programs are operational, the order said. Renters also cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30 if the tenant has taken action to pay rent, such as applying for rental assistance.
Renters are expected to pay full rent unless they are seeking rental assistance or have agreed to a repayment plan.
Evictions for other reasons are permitted during the bridge period. Rent increases are also allowed.
The eviction moratorium went into effect in March 2020 as people began to face economic hardships because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was extended multiple times by the state and federal governments to prevent landlords from evicting tenants who were unable to pay rent.
More than 195,000 Washington renters were behind on rent in June 2021, according to the Census Bureau Pulse Survey. That is 12% of all Washington renters, the governor’s office said.
Some property managers saw a higher proportion of renters fall behind, especially at peak times during the pandemic.
Landon Glenn manages 47 units in Yakima, mostly two-bedroom apartments. He said about 30 families were behind on rent at the peak.
The late rental payments from his tenants added up to more than $150,000, he said.
“I understand the need for protecting people, but we can’t let them fall behind,” he said. “You got to the point where people feel like they have no hope of ever catching up.”
Annette Rodriguez, homeless and housing director for Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, said it’s a balancing act. Landlords must keep operating, and some rely on their rents to help pay their bills, she said.
“We don’t want more homeless individuals or families, but at the same time, it’s something that we need to balance between the landlords and the tenants who also need us,” she said.
Yakima County rental assistance
Yakima County received $28 million to put toward rental assistance, according to the county’s website.
The county is working with a number of agencies, including the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic Action Center, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, Catholic Charities, the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Washington and Northwest Communities Education Center to distribute the money.
Renters can contact any of the participating agencies to enroll in the lottery pool. To qualify, they need to show proof of income restrictions, COVID-related hardships, and a risk of housing instability.
Renters can request up to 12 months of assistance.
The county is using a lottery to make the distribution equitable, Director of Human Services Esther Magasis said.
She said the people who apply earlier are those who have more access to resources. Those who apply later may not have internet access or may not speak English as a first language, she said.
“It still rewards people who apply earlier because you have more opportunities to be selected,” Magasis said, but those who apply later still have a chance.
She said the pool also allows the county to make sure services are not duplicated. Renters can reapply to receive assistance for a different period, but they cannot apply twice for the same period, she said.
Rodriguez at Neighborhood Health said the funds are available until December, so she hopes landlords will wait until then to start the process of eviction.
“All of our landlords have been very cooperative with helping their tenants get the information back to us that we need from them,” Rodriguez said.
Are efforts bringing relief?
Chester Baldwin, executive director of the Washington Business Properties Association, said Yakima County is doing a better job of distributing assistance than other counties.
The county has distributed $5 million of rental assistance since September of 2020, Magasis said.
Glenn said he has seen success with rental assistance for his tenants, but the renters are still more than $100,000 behind, he said.
“The rental assistance has been the only thing that has been beneficial here,” he said, but some people are too far behind.
The money is available, it just needs to be distributed, he said.
“We need to get them caught up and back on their feet,” he said, “and we need zero evictions.”