The City of Seattle spent more than $27 million on rental assistance in the second half of 2021

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Between July 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, the City of Seattle distributed more than $27 million in emergency rental assistance to 6,346 households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Candice Richardson

The Seattle Medium

Along with dealing with the daily threat of life and death, one of the most stressful aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic was the concern of millions of people about whether or not they could keep a roof over their heads. As a result, $3.9 billion of the $11 billion Washington State received in federal funding for pandemic relief was allocated for economic support, including housing assistance.

Between July 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, the City of Seattle – in partnership with United Way of King County, Urban League, Wellspring and numerous community organizations – distributed a total of $27,643,783.88 in aid for the emergency rentals to 6,346 households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to seattle.gov.

More than 75% ($21,245,447.24) of these total funds were allocated to rent arrears – covering tenants who were able to avoid eviction due to federal and local moratoriums, but were still accumulating rent payments missed throughout 2020 and 2021. Assistance for current tenants and future rents was 17% of funding, or $4.9 million, utility arrears were 5% (at approximately $1.4 million) , current and future utilities were less than 1% at $100,000, and other housing costs were $791.40.

Circumstances caused by Covid have caused lawmakers and governing bodies to adapt to support our society as a whole. However, the ability to make trillions of dollars readily available to counter the devastating impact of the pandemic has left many already active in the fight against homelessness wondering why haven’t we tried this before, even on a smaller scale?

“[Before Covid] we were seeing too many homeless people going through the eviction system, and that was especially true for African American women,” said Lauren McGowen, Associate Vice President, Ending Homelessness and Poverty for United Way of King County (UWKC).

Before the pandemic caused ever-evolving policy changes, McGowen oversaw a program at UWKC called Homebase in partnership with the King County Bar Association. The program provided both legal services and flexible financial assistance, raising $12 million in private funds and saving more than a thousand households from facing eviction in 2019.

Since the influx of funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) of 2020 and the America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, the program has evolved with the crisis.

“It all started with a few months of rental assistance when neither of us knew we’d still be here two years from now,” says McGowen. “And more recently, we were able to pay up to twelve months of housing assistance for households in our region. And I think along the way, we’ve worked very hard to make the barrier as low as possible for households.

Part of lowering that barrier is making sure racial inequity is addressed head-on in the application process — something the Seattle Housing Office says it works hand-in-hand with the UWKC to do. remedy.

“Recognizing that communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the health and economic impacts of this pandemic, the Housing Bureau has contracted with organizations rooted in communities of color to help ensure that aid to housing was equitably distributed,” the Housing Office said in a written statement. “Of the households for which we have racial demographic data, 65% are headed by someone who identifies as Black, Indigenous or a person of color. Of the households for which we have ethnic data, 17% identify as Hispanic or Latino. »

“That’s been such an important part of this approach because we know that not only do homelessness and evictions impact people of color, we know that the impacts of COVID have disproportionately impacted communities of color. “, says McGowen.

“I think it’s been a learning experience and we’ve evolved our methods over the past two years,” adds McGowen. “And each time we’ve done that, I think we’ve grown stronger and proud that over 70% of the households that have been served are people of color and we’ve been able to both change our own practices and policies to ensure that these are the people who get the money and who can stay at home.

Some of the policies that the UWKC has changed internally include working with the City of Seattle Housing Office to provide direct rent payments to people if their landlord refuses to participate in the housing assistance program to reduce the barriers to participation for those who needed it most. ; the organization has also made sure to translate all of its materials into more than 20 languages ​​to maximize communication with the diverse populations of the community.

In February 2022, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced that approximately $6 million of the $25 million in rental assistance would be paid exclusively to income-qualified tenants, or those who represent up to 80% of the region’s median income.

As we enter the second quarter of the third year of the pandemic, registration for housing assistance is now closed to new applicants, as applications for the past two years are still being processed. It’s cold comfort for those who couldn’t get a final decision before the eviction moratorium ended in late February. King County officials said there are more than 100,000 people residing in the Greater Seattle-Tacoma area who say they are behind on rent, they estimate 7,000 to 8,000 claimants rental assistance will be left unassisted.

The roll-out of rental assistance, in contrast to the large numbers of people in need, remains insufficient, even with unprecedented funding made available. Again, according to McGowen, the volume is not merely indicative of those affected by the pandemic, it is indicative of those who were already in need before Covid.

“I think it’s such an important thing for all of us to remember that before the pandemic, only one in five households that had an income eligible for rent assistance received it,” McGowen says. “And that’s because rental assistance isn’t an entitlement program like food stamps or income tax credits are. Everyone who qualifies for these programs gets them. Rent assistance is not like that. It’s just not funded at a high enough level. It is still not budgeted at a high enough level. There are currently thousands of households in need of rental assistance for which we do not have enough funding in this area.

Now that a precedent has been set in the wake of the global emergency that is the Covid-19 pandemic, the question facing McGowen is how, as a society, can we continue this type of ‘assistance ? As she mentions, despite the fact that the country is heading towards recovery, the need for housing assistance is not diminishing.

“I think what surprises me the most is that people don’t realize how many people needed help before the pandemic,” she says. “And so that alone represents so many of our challenges in this region and across the country and we can do something about it. We can push Congress. We can fix it. I am always optimistic.

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