Housing advocates see more seeking rental assistance

SEATTLE – Even though Governor Jay Inslee extended an eviction moratorium through the end of July, the number of people seeking rental assistance is growing exponentially in our state.

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance believes as many as 300,000 renters in our state will need some kind of financial help to avoid becoming homeless.

The housing alliance says communities of color will likely suffer the most in terms of housing instability. The organization’s spring report reveals black households are twice as likely to rent than white families. And the organization believes there are still months of hardship ahead.

“It makes no sense to make cuts,” said Michele Thomas, director of policy and analysis at WLIHA. “We need deep investments.”

The economic shutdown punched a hole in government revenues. Thomas says proposed cuts to state spending may also include slashing $16 million from the Housing and Essential Needs program, which is meant to help those most at risk.

“This program pays rent for extremely low-income adults who are disabled,” she said.

For now, expanded unemployment and an eviction moratorium are band-aids for renters, said Thomas, adding that other programs meant to help families in hardship never recovered from the last crisis.

“During the recession they cut to the bone,” she said.

Between February and April this year the housing alliance says renters sought even more help through Washington’s 2-1-1 program.

King County saw a nearly 230% jump in calls. In Snohomish County calls more than doubled, and Pierce County saw a 77% increase.

“The future was looking bright,” said Zach Kosturos, owner of Prime Locations.

Kosturos says his company manages around 1,500 rentals in the South Sound and he worries even more renters will be in trouble when unemployment assistance ends and evictions return.

“I think we’ll see delinquencies skyrocket,” he said

Thomas says while some governments offer programs to help renters, she says state and federal lawmakers will need to find nearly another $2 billion through the end of the year to keep renters from becoming homeless.

And until our economy returns to anything close to normal, Kosturos believes public investment in housing may be what keeps communities whole.

“With all the money we’ve printed, it wouldn’t be that difficult to subsidize those people with the greatest need until things get back to normal,” he said.