This afternoon Mayor Durkan returned the Council’s ban on winter evictions without signing it, allowing it to go into effect. But she also proposed additional support for renters in the form of $200,000 of city funding to United Way of King County to supplement its Home Base eviction prevention program. (updates below)
By returning the bill unsigned, Durkan invokes a middle ground between signing it into law and vetoing it: the bill will go into effect without her signature after 30 days, but it won’t require an explicit veto override by the Council — which it almost certainly would have received. Before approving the ban, Council members pared it back significantly from its original version: they narrowed the period it is in effect from 5 months to 3 months, and they exempted landlords who own four or fewer rental units.
Durkan’s letter to the City Clerk returning the bill calls it “flawed” and claims that it will not achieve its stated goal of preventing evictions:
I have returned Council Bill 119726 unsigned, understanding it will become law. I share the Council’s goal of preventing tenants from being evicted from rental housing in winter, particularly those who face the specter of homelessness as a result. However, the bill is flawed and does not accomplish these goals: 1) it does not actually protect vulnerable households at risk of eviction; 2) it could subject the City to a protracted and expensive legal battle, meaning we will spend money on lawyers when we could spend it helping people; and 3) we should be focused on existing, proven solutions that we know will actually keep low-income households at risk of eviction in their homes.
Her letter notes that the ordinance provides an additional defense for renters facing eviction, but the renters must show up in court and assert the defense in order for it to actually stop their evictions. It cites the Losing Home report — the same report that Council member Sawant used as a justification for the winter evictions ban — in saying that nearly half of all evictions end in a default judgment because the tenant does not show up in court. Durkan also references the memo that several city department heads sent the Council in early February raising concerns with the bill, including questions over whether it will stand up in court when it inevitably attracts a legal challenge. In response, Council member Sawant, the sponsor of the winter evictions ban ordinance, wrote a letter attempting to address the concerns that the city department heads raised.
As an alternative to the ban, Durkan is proposing providing $200,000 of funding to United Way of King County, which would be leveraged by $506,000 of private donations, to provide rent and legal assistance next winter to 150 households facing eviction through its Home Base program. Home Base predicts it will need to provide support for 150 Seattle renter households next winter for the three-month period that the winter evictions ban will be in force. According to a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office, a funding source for the $200,000 has not been identified. UPDATE: here is Durkan’s bill, as transmitted to the City Council today. It’s pretty generic stuff. Also, the funding source has now been identified: according to a spokesperson for the Mayor’s, “Due to a delay in the planned sale of bonds supported by general fund and a more favorable interest rate environment than we had anticipated, we will need $200K less in debt service in 2020 for this new issuance than we projected.”
The Mayor’s Office says that they have discussed Durkan’s proposal with Council members, and they expect Council member Lewis will sponsor it through the Council’s legislative process. UPDATE: SCC Insight spoke with Council member Lewis this afternoon, who confirmed that he will be introducing and sponsoring Durkan’s bill. Lewis, one of only two renters among the nine Council members, emphasized that after the winter evictions bill was passed by the Council he immediately started discussions with the Mayor about funding rent assistance. He praised United Way’s Home base program and said that he sees it as an opportunity to scale up assistance for renters beyond just the winter months. “I’m excited,” he said. “This is a really critical program — there has been no public investment in it. We would be the first one.”
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