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Spokane rushes rental assistance as eviction deadline looms

Spokane City Hall  (Christopher Anderson)
Spokane City Hall (Christopher Anderson)

With the threat of evictions looming, the city of Spokane has opened $6 million of rental assistance for people still struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding comes as Gov. Jay Inslee’s long COVID-19 eviction moratorium nears its end on June 30.

The city’s rental assistance funding is divided among programs focused on different groups of renters within city borders – any household; households with minor children at risk of homelessness; landlords; and Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs used Inslee’s visit to Spokane last week as an opportunity to request that the governor extend the eviction moratorium. Inslee has not indicated he will take action to do so.

Beggs told The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday the city is just now releasing $6 million in rental assistance and is preparing to release about $9 million more.

“The worry is that we won’t get all the rental assistance we have out the door by June 30,” Beggs said.

If the moratorium is not extended, Beggs warned that “thousands of people could be evicted just for the fact that the rental assist money wasn’t (available).”

“The governor has not said what assistance there will be for tenants like an eviction moratorium beyond June 30,” Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Inslee, wrote in an email.

How the moratorium’s end plays out remains unclear.

The Spokane County Bar Association is one of several groups involved in the state’s new Eviction Resolution Program, which is intended to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants before the latter resort to eviction. During the moratorium, participation in the program has been voluntary, but it will be mandatory before a landlord can file for eviction after the moratorium is lifted.

The Legislature adopted a law this spring that includes several tenant protections that could also have an impact on the eviction situation. The legislation also stated “the eviction moratorium instituted by the governor … shall end on June 30, 2021,” potentially limiting the governor’s options.

Courts may also struggle to find the administrative bandwidth to process all of the eviction filings.

The Bar Association has estimated that the county’s court system could see about 2,500 eviction filings every month when the moratorium expires, according to Executive Director Julie Griffith.

Spokane programsAlthough a targeted approach is not new to the city’s COVID-19 rental assistance programs, this is the first time in which communities of color have been specifically funded.

Eligibility standards are different depending on the program, but each has the same basic requirements.

The household’s income must be no greater than 80% of the area median income, and it must be located within the city of Spokane’s borders. Tenants must be able to prove that they face housing instability, either now or in the future, as a result of financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

LiveStories will oversee the city’s rental assistance program open to all tenants and the program open to landlords.

The company administered a small business and nonprofit COVID-19 grant program on the city’s behalf last year.

Family Promise of Spokane, which supports families who are at risk of – or actively experiencing – homelessness, will administer the funding targeted at households with minor children.

The Carl Maxey Center will focus on BIPOC households.

Brian Coddington, a city spokesman, said the city learned from prior rental assistance efforts that “we want to make sure we are as inclusive as possible.”

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to find the resources and have access to them,” Coddington said.

The breakdown is $2.2 million for Family Promise of Spokane, $4 million for LiveStories and $385,000 for the Carl Maxey Center.

The $6 million in funding was awarded to the city through the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance program.

The programs, which opened on Tuesday, are overseen by the different agencies but can all be accessed through the city of Spokane’s rental assistance web page, my.spokanecity.org/covid19/resident-assistance/.

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