‘The question is, who will pay for this two-fold crisis of COVID and the economic recession – big business, or working people? With our petition, renters, working-class homeowners, struggling small business owners, and progressive small landlords are demanding that Mayor Durkan stand with them.’
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, initiated an important community petition that has garnered more than 2,100 signatures in just 4 days, and today called on Mayor Durkan to strengthen and extend, through 2021, protections against eviction for tenants, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. Current Seattle and statewide executive order protections expire on December 31, after which tens of thousands of tenants and small businesses face the prospect of eviction.
“As I said in my recent opinion editorial, tenants and struggling small businesses need protection in the context of COVID and the recession, immediately and without any further delay,” Sawant said. “We’ve heard a number of reports that corporate landlords are urging the Democratic establishment to weaken existing tenant protections, and have been using existing loopholes in the current moratoriums to try to evict tenants. This is shameful, but not surprising,” she remarked.
Sawant noted that earlier this year her Council office led the fight, backed by the local tenants rights movement, to win breakthrough legislation banning most residential evictions during winter months. The first-in-the-nation winter tenant protections are important, but they only go through February, however, and need to be expanded to prevent landlords from finding loopholes to evict tenants.
“We cannot rely on the Democratic Party to fight to defend, let alone strengthen, the moratorium. Just as in March, at the start of the COVID crisis, whatever we win will be a function of our power as an independent movement. Just this year, we made Seattle the first and only city to win a winter evictions ban. We won the Amazon Tax to fund a big expansion of affordable housing and the Green New Deal during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer,” Councilmember Sawant said.
“Unlike big developers, Wall Street banks, and corporate landlords, working people are struggling under the twin crises of COVID and the economic recession. Last week, my Council office put out the community petition, and within hours we had collected 1,000 signatures,” Sawant noted. “The outpouring of support for our demand has been impressive. In addition to extending the moratorium, we need to cancel rent, mortgage, and utility payments for renters, and struggling small businesses and small landlords.”
“The latest $5 million relief package to support small businesses and workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is going before the Council today for a vote, is something I support, but we all recognize that it’s not nearly enough. Without further protection, small businesses will face eviction in the new year. That’s also why this one-year eviction moratorium is essential,” Sawant said.
“Small businesses and especially restaurants need relief now, which is why Councilmember Sawant’s petition for a full-year moratorium extension is so timely,” said Karla Esquivel, who owns Andaluz boutique in Rainier Valley. “Extending the moratorium is the humane thing to do, not only for renters but also for small business owners, as their livelihoods are at stake. If they are forced to close because of the pandemic, it will be devastating for their families and for the communities they serve. My big fear is what would come next—those vacated businesses will be taken over by the deep pockets of local and national chains. We will lose the diversity and the sense of community that makes our neighborhoods special.”
The community petition demands that the Mayor support working people and struggling small businesses by:
- Extending the current Seattle moratorium for at least 12 months, through the end of 2021.
- Banning all penalties and late fees.
- Waiving payments to City-owned utilities, so that people don’t go without heat and electricity this winter.
- Requiring that residential landlords offer renters the opportunity to extend expiring leases until at least three months after the end date of the emergency declaration.
- Cancelling rent and mortgage payments for those who have lost income due to COVID.
In signing the petition, more than 750 people added their own commentary, including dozens of moving, personal stories of being on the brink of homelessness.
“I am a homeless service provider. Unless this moratorium is extended more people will be on the streets, including some of my at risk co-workers, with fewer resources, during a global pandemic, in the dead of winter, and lives will be lost,” wrote one petition signer.
A Belltown renter wrote, “I’m a mom, of a two-year-old, who was recently laid off again and having trouble paying my rent for the first time this year right now. I’m terrified of being evicted and possibly having to be on the streets with my child.”
A North Seattle renter wrote, “I am disabled & have fallen behind on my rent due to COVID. I would not survive living on the street. That would definitely be my fate if the eviction moratorium were not extended for a long time more.”
Several small landlords also signed Councilmember Sawant’s petition, including one from West Seattle, who wrote, “I am a Seattle homeowner who rents out a portion of my home, and I support extending the rent moratorium. It is immoral for landlords to kick out renters during a pandemic for not being able to pay rent when so many are losing their jobs due to no fault of their own.”
“Tens of millions of working people across the country have lost their jobs or lost income since the pandemic struck in March,” Sawant noted. “Some 530,000 Seattle/King County residents have filed for unemployment since March. Struggling small business owners have had to close their doors, with inadequate government support. Even before the pandemic, 78 percent of American workers were living paycheck-to-paycheck, and nearly 75 percent reported being in debt. Working people face a tsunami of evictions, foreclosures, and bankruptcies once the emergency declarations expire. Yet corporations like Amazon and Microsoft have registered staggering profits during the pandemic, and major Seattle-area landlords, like Essex Property Management and Equity Apartments have recorded hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.
“The question is, who will pay for this two-fold crisis, of COVID and the economic recession – big business, or working people? With our petition, renters, working-class homeowners, struggling small business owners, and progressive small landlords are demanding that Mayor Durkan stand with them.”
“The tremendous outpouring of support for Councilmember Sawant’s petition demonstrates just how urgent the situation is for tenants right now,” said Kate Rubin, executive director of the tenants rights group Be:Seattle. “In the dozens of Tenant Rights Bootcamps that Be:Seattle has conducted this year, reaching hundreds of tenants, the number one thing we have heard is that renters absolutely need protection, both during and after the declared state of emergency. This pandemic has exacerbated the already dire housing crisis and tenants are terrified of losing their homes,” Rubin said.
In addition to demanding city protections for tenants and struggling small businesses, Councilmember Sawant has joined the statewide movement demanding tenant protections. “The Tenants Union of Washington (TU) joins with Councilmember Sawant and the Seattle renters movement in calling on Mayor Durkan to extend protections for tenants through 2021,” said TU executive director Violet Lavatai. “We also call on renters to join our campaign to demand that Governor Jay Inslee extend and strengthen the moratorium statewide, and reject efforts by big landlords to water it down,” Lavatai said.