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caption: Suspend Rent flyers are displayed on Monday, May 4, 2020, along Second Avenue Extension at the intersection of South Main Street in Seattle.
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Suspend Rent flyers are displayed on Monday, May 4, 2020, along Second Avenue Extension at the intersection of South Main Street in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

In King County, rent relief is flowing but funds are drying up

On the one hand, money is moving faster.

On the other hand, it's going to run out too soon.

Rent relief is starting to flow more freely in King County.

Hedda McLendon directs King County's COVID Emergency Services Group. She says until recently, paperwork was slowing down the system. “For example, we were calling landlords," she said. "They might have been at work. They might have had easy access to the lease, but tell us 'Wait, I’ve got to go home and get my W-9,' or 'What is a W-9, how do I fill that out?'"

On the tenant side, it was the same thing. Community-based organizations that work with the county would ask renters for documents proving their income. Then they would wait around — sometimes for weeks —until the documents were all uploaded to the system.

Now, much of the paperwork is optional. Landlords and tenants can just tell one of the county’s agents what their financial situation is. The claims can be audited later.

This simplified process — made possible by relaxed requirements from the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this year —has created new opportunities. Now, community-based organizations can staff a table at a neighborhood event and have someone signed up for rent relief with no more than a 10-minute conversation, McLendon says.

The faster flow of money also means King County has met federal requirements that it spend the money by a certain date, McLendon says. That means the county is not currently at risk of losing rent relief funds from the federal government, she says, a concern KUOW has reported on in the past.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough money for everybody. King County has about $123 million left to spend. That’s enough to reach 10,000 households, which is less than half the number who’ve applied for help. Every week, more people sign up.

McLendon says an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 households that are eligible for aid could be left behind, because they haven't signed up for the program yet.

“They are on the verge of experiencing an episode of homelessness," says McLendon. "What keeps me up at night is just needing to go faster, to support more of our community members, getting their rent paid. ”

With the rent taken care of, people can focus on things like getting jobs, and helping their kids with school.

McLendon says the county will prioritize households facing the most financial hardship.