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caption: Volunteers count the number of people experiencing homelessness during the annual King County Point-In-Time count on Friday, January 25, 2018, in Pioneer Square.
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Volunteers count the number of people experiencing homelessness during the annual King County Point-In-Time count on Friday, January 25, 2018, in Pioneer Square.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/MEGAN FARMER

Winter evictions could be banned in Seattle

Councilmember Kshama Sawant says evictions cause homelessness, while landlords say they're being blamed for larger systemic problems.

Seattle's City Council will vote on the proposed ban next Monday.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is KUOW, I'm Kim Malcolm.

The Seattle City Council is considering a new law ... that would prevent people from being evicted during the winter. The council took up the issue today, and they'll vote next week. KUOW's Joshua McNichols is here to tell us more.

Okay, first the basics: what exactly would this bill do?

It outlaws evictions in Seattle during winter months. No evictions between November 1 and March 31. So April 1, April Fool's Day, would become the first day a landlord can evict someone.

Are there any exceptions?

Yeah, there are some. For example, the eviction ban doesn't apply if a tenant is doing something illegal in or around the building.

And if you put in a granny flat or a backyard cottage, and you have a problem with the tenant living on your property, that person can still be evicted. This exception is only for landlords who also live on the property.

This idea was initially proposed by councilmember Kshama Sawant. Why does she say this law is needed?

She was inspired by a big report that came out in 2018. The King County Bar Association and the Seattle Women's Commission analyzed 1,218 eviction filing records and identified a clear link between evictions and homelessness.

The report also included results of a survey of evicted people. Of the those surveyed, 37% ended up living outside. A quarter went to shelters, a quarter found couches to crash on, and only 12% found another apartment.

Sawant says the eviction process just piles on debt, and that makes it more difficult for a person to avoid homelessness. She has called it an epidemic in her district.

SAWANT: "In district 3, statistics show that there is an eviction every other day."

And to be clear, if this bill passes — a tenant who isn't paying rent and is eventually evicted after winter is over — they'd still owe the landlord, yes?

Yeah. But if a person gets evicted on April 1 - and owes 5 months back rent, that's a big chunk of change to pay off. It could be hard for landlords to collect.

Joshua — what are landlords and developers telling you about this bill?

Well, they're saying it won't work.

They tell me landlords don't like evictions either, but it's much more effective for governments to help pay tenants rent, when they're that close to homelessness, rather than trying to interrupt the eviction process, after things gets that far.

One landlord, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, told me that putting the burden on landlords will actually backfire for tenants. Here he is, talking about how landlords will react.

SHAPIRO: "I think people will be more stringent on who goes into their buildings. So therefore, people that maybe on paper don't look as strong, landlords will be less likely to give those people a chance to occupy their buildings."

A spokesperson for the Washington Multifamily Housing Association told me evictions don't cause homelessness; evictions are a symptom of larger systemic problems. But the landlords get blamed.

All the Councilmembers will vote on this bill next Monday. What sorts of changes to the proposal could we see before then?

New Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen introduced an amendment that would limit the eviction ban to subsidized affordable housing. That way, he says we could monitor this bill for unexpected consequences before rolling it out to all apartments. His amendment didn't make it out of committee, but he could reintroduce it later.

It shows how hard it's going to be for critics of this bill to voice their concerns without coming across as on the side of people who want to throw tenants out in the snow.

Is that the only proposed change out there?

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, whose district includes downtown, and includes even more evictions than Sawant's, is working on an amendment that would create a fund to help landlords if they can't claim all of the rent they're owed. It looks like he's proposing this as an addition to Sawant's bill instead of as a replacement for her bill.

Sawant doesn't love his amendment, but in the council this morning she said she's okay with the compromise, and said it's friendly amendments like that that encouraged her to delay the council vote on this bill until next Monday.

How much support is there for this measure?

Three councilmembers voted for it so far: Kshama Sawant, Tammy Morales, and Andrew Lewis.

Statistically, when you consider the past political positions of the remaining councilmembers, it seems likely to pass, though possibly with some amendments.