Lawmakers of Olympia Aim to Reform Eviction Process to Tackle Rising Homelessness
As the issue of housing has never been off the table of debate, Washington lawmakers have now agreed on the problem of housing affordability has come to a head, and they are pushing to diminish evictions, promote density and change condo liability laws that have helped stunt development of cheaper homes.
“Quite honestly, we have to do something,” said Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, who is proposing the eviction legislation. “We’re at a crisis level.”
Gina Owens, a long-time resident in Seattle, was left incapable to work after a car accident rendered her disabled in 2000, forcing her to fall behind on her rent, only being able to pay a portion.
Later she was evicted in a three weeks process which left Owens and her teenage daughter homeless. They stayed at a shelter for some years describing the experience as “horrid.”
Owens at a public hearing Monday in support of broad eviction reform legislation being considered in the state Legislature said, “I just think if I had a long time to pay before a landlord could evict me, such as 14 or 21 days, if there had been a law or provision allowing judges to consider my circumstances before I was evicted, would I have gone through the kind of traumas I did.”
As per a recent study by Seattle Women’s Commission (SWC) and King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project study, analysing 1600 eviction in Seattle during 2017 and 2018, it is found that nearly 90 percent of the people evicted are living with friends or family, in transitional housing or without any other options for immediate shelter.
The epicenter of the crisis is in King County. As per last year’s count, King County has around 12112 homeless people, and it has been increasing over the years. Homelessness is no more a problem of Seattle as suburban and rural areas are also gradually affecting by it.
It should be noted, Washington is the 13th largest state in the United States of America having the 5th largest population of homeless people. And as per the Federal data, the problem has increased by nearly seven percent in King County over the years.
“This is one of the things that should unify us, it’s not a purely urban problem anymore,” House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said at a news conference before the session.
Kuderer’s bill, SB 5600, is one of the many bills aim towards tackling the problem. It seeks to extend the pay-or-vacate notice timeline from three days to 14 days and require the document be written in plain language and include information on civil legal aid resources. It also has plans to extend the mandatory notice period for a change in rent from 30 to 60 days, according to a legislative analysis. These extensions are meant to give tenants a little more time to arrange money together to stay in their home.
Almost half of the Seattle renters served with an eviction notice in 2017 owed one month’s rent or less, and many tenants who were ultimately evicted ended up homeless, according to the study by SWC and Housing Justice Project.
“It’s just ridiculous that we are so far behind,” said Xochitl Maykovich, the political director for the advocacy group Washington Community Action Network. She also stated that other states, such as Tennessee, have longer notice periods. “If we want actually to address the housing crisis, if we want to stop seeing as many people on the streets as we do, we need to reform the eviction process.”
But in a recent hearing, Washington Landlord Association President Rob Trickler said that the tenants are not the only ones struggling with finances, as landlords also have to deal with mortgage payments.
“They are not living in mattresses of money, they’re struggling day to day,” Trickler said. As per him, his organization’s membership has fallen to just 7,000 members, down from 12,000 two years ago. And he believes Kuderer’s bill would lead to less number of landlords in the industry which would, in turn, lessen the supply of rental housing, and, by extension, increase the cost of available units.
Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, with years of experience as landlord now aims to reform the current system. The highlight of the bill includes requiring landlords to give 120-days notice before an eviction if they plan to demolish the residence and 60-day written notice if rent is being increased by more than 10 percent. It also would direct that landlords give tenants an information guide at the time of moving in which explains their rights and responsibilities as well as includes information on low-cost legal services for the future course.
“What we’re trying to do is help those who are in financial struggles or challenges to be able to have a little better opportunity to remedy and to stay in their homes,” Barkis said.
There are other lawmakers as well who are trying to bring similar legislation. Owing to the urgency of the situation, there should be a proper debate on these bills and the new reformed eviction process should be made having an equal stake to both tenants and landlords.