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Spokane County wins $9 million grant for rental assistance, but advocates warn it’s not nearly enough

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 2, 2021

Steve Corker, president of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest, and Terri Anderson, executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State’s Spokane office, are seen in front of the Spokane County Courthouse last June.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Steve Corker, president of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest, and Terri Anderson, executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State’s Spokane office, are seen in front of the Spokane County Courthouse last June. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

Spokane County accepted a $9 million federal grant for rental and utility assistance on Tuesday.

The city of Spokane won $6.7 million through the same program last month, but advocates for tenants and landlords warned Tuesday that, even with the federal help flowing into Spokane, more funding is needed to address the mountain of unpaid rent in Spokane County.

Both the city and county have yet to announce how they will distribute their respective allotments of rental and utility assistance, but both had used portions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act monies to launch rental assistance programs in 2020.

The funding was made available through the latest round of $900 billion in coronavirus relief Congress passed late last year. The grant falls under the Treasury Department’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Despite the county’s new rental assistance windfall, Terri Anderson, director of the Tenants Union of Washington State’s office in Spokane, estimates Spokane County is in need of about $30 million in rental assistance. She warned the county faces a wave of hundreds of evictions if and when the current moratorium on evictions is lifted.

In December, Gov. Jay Inslee extended the eviction moratorium through at least March 31.

Many people remain out of work during the pandemic, Anderson noted. A new direct stimulus check – one facet of ongoing negotiations between Senate Republicans and the Biden administration this week – would help, but Anderson warned that the $30 million estimate is “conservative” and that the figure will only continue to grow while the economy suffers.

Steve Corker, president of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest, estimated that about 20% of low-income renters in the city of Spokane have fallen behind on rent. Each month, he said, adds about another $4 million to $5 million in unpaid rent countywide.

The State House of Representatives passed a COVID-19 relief package Monday that includes $365 million for housing programs, including rental assistance, that will now be taken up by the Senate. But it remains to be seen how much of that money would make its way into Spokane County for rental assistance.

“We’ve got a ways to go, but at least it’s being recognized,” Corker said.

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