Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

As the economic fallout for working people continues following restrictions on events and school closures in recent days, nonprofits are bracing for increased demand, and grassroots organizations are pushing for freezes on rent payments and evictions.

On Wednesday, Seattle chef Tom Douglas announced he would be closing a dozen of his restaurants after revenue declined 90 percent, the Seattle Times reported. Some 800 workers were laid off. While he has plans to reopen, many will be without paychecks.

On Sunday, Gov. Jay Inslee closed bars, in-person dining at restaurants and other social gathering spots across the state.

Washington state has promoted efforts to help workers by getting them to enroll in unemployment benefits. Those who are sick, taking care of ill family or who are being quarantined qualify for the state’s paid sick leave which is paid by their employer. However, for those who are laid off due to business slowdown, they’re left with filing for unemployment.

Workers making around minimum wage will earn only $188 a week, according to the state’s benefit’s calculator.

There has been a growing outcry for rent and mortgage freezes as the crisis has progressed, with online petitions calling for local and statewide stoppages.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on March 13 ordered a 30-day moratorium on residential evictions related to rent with an option to extend it if needed. The mayor further directed utilities to continue serving customers. As of March 15, there had been no similar action from the Governor’s office.

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has been vocally pushing for the moratorium in the city.

Amy Tower, education counselor for the Tenants Union of Washington state, said it would likely take political will to enact broader protections for renters.

“Part of me really does worry,” Tower said. “I don’t know if Jay Inslee or Mayor Durkan or even Executive Constantine would make those changes for renters, but they should.”

There’s a risk that many for many people who are losing income from the outbreak and attempts to stem it, that they could lose their housing. Community organizations, Tower said, are beginning to come together and try to help each other out.

“I do have confidence that the community will step up and do what it needs to do, but if the government really wants to do it’s job and prevent an even worse outcome, they need to step up,” she said.

As reported last week, area nonprofits are also worried. Lauren Thomas, Hopelink’s CEO, said the long-term impacts of the outbreak will likely be an economic crisis for low-income families, seniors and other vulnerable people.

Hopelink already provides rental assistance and eviction prevention services to more than 440 households. Tower can see that doubling.

“It has already started,” she said late last week.

The restrictions on gatherings has closed out many nonprofit’s planned spring fundraisers. Thomas said there needs to be long-term government programs created to help workers as the outbreak is bringing to light the insecurity in the economy.

“So many people are living paycheck to paycheck, it takes something like COVID and we immediately see the impacts,” she said. “IT’s a fundamental system that unfairly burdens low-income, part-time or not working individuals.”

Thomas also wants to see large area corporations step up and provide assistance to not only their employees, but the broader community.

Rabbi Will Berkovitz, CEO of Jewish Family Services, also hopes to see local governments do more, and in particular increase funding for nonprofits so they can meet demands.

Government programs could also be created where people put out of work by the outbreak, like those in the restaurant industry, could be tapped to make food which nonprofits could deliver to those who needed it.

“We have an infrastructure right now as a community to address this, we need a leap of imagination,” he said.


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