Waiting For The Snakes: Eviction Ban And Rent Relief Tragedy Continues
The headline in the Washington Post tells the story: “As eviction crisis loomed, rental relief barely picked up in July.” But the story is not the one the Washington Post seems to be telling. The real story is that from the very beginning of the Covid-19 problem, governments chose to enact eviction bans first and worry about paying the rent later. It is worth walking through the time line of how we got here, going back to the first weekend in March 2020 when state and local governments began to act using closures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Had governments acted to quickly offer rent payments at the outset, there never would have been a need for eviction bans in the first place. Now, more than 9 months after it was allocated, $25 billion in rent relief is largely undistributed.
It was March 12, 2020 and I had walked over from our office to a German bar and restaurant called Feierabend. It was a Thursday, and just the day before I had attended an election forum in Portland. I was supposed to leave on Monday to talk with a conference in Minneapolis, but that was still up in the air because of Covid-19. I’d find out the next day that the conference was cancelled. But I was concerned. I was hearing about an eviction ban, and the local rental housing association had already indicated it was going along with some kind of “eviction ban.” As I sat for the last time in Feierabend (it would close permanently because of Covid later in the year), I wrote a post about what we really needed, rent relief.
Local socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant wasted no time in urging a ban on eviction. In a post headlined, “Socialist Grabs For Power And Property In Virus Crisis,” I said,
“The socialist effort to grab private property has tried, in its call for a COVID-19 eviction ban, to make the problem about eviction. This is not about eviction; it is about lost income. The state should do what it can to supplement and replace that income for impacted business and their employees and contractors.”
We hadn’t even gotten a lock down order and we were far from wearing masks or even social distancing, but Sawant and her ilk were already using the growing worry to foist chaos on the rental housing market with a ban.
It is really important to note, that Washington’s landlord organizations capitulated the day before. They’ve denied it since, but here’s the link and what the Seattle Times reported on March 11th:
“Washington’s major landlord groups say there should be a 30-day emergency halt to the enforcement of evictions in King County, due to the novel coronavirus.
The Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHA), which has more than 5,100 landlords, called for the move in a blog post Wednesday. The Washington Multi-Family Housing Association (WMFHA) also supports the idea.”
That was it, Seattle’s “business friendly” mayor, Jenny Durkan imposed a ban on eviction days later.
For the next 9 months, we urged federal, state, and local government to commit resources to just pay the rent. We were ignored again, and again. Then, in December of 2020, after efforts at the federal level, we saw a decent proposal moved forward. By March 2021, no rent relief had been paid out. The program was stuck.
We sent out a plea on August 2nd this year to Governor Jay Inslee in Washington.
“We sent the attached letter to you back in December of last year asking you and the legislature to use financial institutions to rapidly issue rent relief, a system like the successful Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This kind of program would have paid rent first and then documentation. Your Commerce Department rejected this idea without any explanation and instead created an elaborate granting process to counties and non-profits. One of your staff said, in effect, that relief would be “a social program, not an economic one.” We sought guidance from the Treasury Department through United States’ Senator Rob Portman’s office; Treasury had no objection to the idea of treating rent relief like the PPP.”
There was no response.
So here we are. Still. The media reporting about billions of people on the edge of eviction and all the money simply disappeared.
While this whole story has not caused an existential crisis for me, it has created a deeper bond between myself and a figure I rediscovered when I read Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly, Trojan priest Laocoon. I’ve referred to poor ol’ Laocoon a lot in the last seven years. I even finally wrote a post about what the guy might have done after the city fathers of Troy dismissed his warning about Greeks bearing gifts. All that’s left for me and Laocoon now is to wait for the snakes.