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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inslee will allow eviction moratorium bridge to expire. Here’s how that could play out in Spokane

The Spokane County Courthouse is seen on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.   (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Gov. Jay Inslee will allow the last of his pandemic-related eviction protections to expire at the end of the month.

Inslee said Thursday he will not extend the eviction moratorium bridge, which was an attempt to transition tenants and landlords out of the eviction moratorium and into programs passed by the Legislature last year.

“You have to have some end to the moratorium,” Inslee said. “You have to have some transition, and we are moving to that transition.”

The bridge proclamation put into place a “huge process” that tenants have to go through before being evicted, Inslee said. They have a right to counsel or a right to go through the eviction resolution program, he added.

A wave of evictions is not going to happen on day one after the moratorium lifts, Inslee argued. He encouraged tenants and landlords to take full advantage of the eviction resolution and the right to counsel programs.

Spokane County has already certified its eviction resolution program and the right to counsel program, both of which are requirements of state legislation enacted earlier this year.

The eviction resolution program is intended to mediate disputes between landlords and tenants. A landlord is required to at least offer tenants a 14-day window to participate in the program before filing for eviction.

The right to counsel program ensures indigent people facing eviction are represented by an attorney. It is overseen by the state’s Office of Civil and Legal Aid, and handled locally between the Spokane County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Program and the Northwest Justice Project.

Tenants are often unaware of these new protections and their rights, said Terri Anderson, Spokane director for the Tenants Union of Washington.

“They don’t know these processes that the new law provides that could help them,” Anderson said. “When you don’t know what the law is, how are you going to use it?”

With the moratorium bridge ending, the tenant advocacy group will shift its focus locally.

“We’re hoping that the city of Spokane will step up and maybe do something like some of the cities in Western Washington,” Anderson said.

Local protections?

Mayor Nadine Woodward has shown no interest in extending eviction protections like her counterpart Mayor Jenny Durkan has done in Seattle.

“Her focus has been on helping people access rental assistance funds coming into the community,” said city spokesman Brian Coddington.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs proposed a law last week that would prohibit landlords who accept rental assistance from substantially increasing a tenant’s rent. Under the law, the landlord would not be able to raise rent by more than the rate of inflation for a year after taking a rental assistance payment.

“My first goal is just to surface the idea, and really there are so few options that City Council has on this issue, and this is the only palatable option really that I saw,” Beggs said.

The law would also prevent landlords from evicting a tenant for unpaid rent as long as that tenant has at least applied for rental assistance.

As the bridge ends, Inslee pointed to the more than $1 billion in rental assistance given to local jurisdictions over the past year.

“We’ve done about all we can do,” he said. “It’s up to them to get it distributed.”

Some local jurisdictions have improved over the past few weeks and have increased their distribution “dramatically,” Inslee said.

The trickle of rental assistance has been a source of frustration.

“I honestly don’t know what landlords are supposed to do. If the tenant has been approved for rental assistance, the landlord might not mind waiting a month or more for payment. The problem is waiting months only to learn the tenant’s application has been rejected,” Tom McGarry, a landlord attorney, wrote in an email to The Spokesman-Review this week.

It’s also puzzling to elected leaders.

“What I’ve wanted to get is a report back that says, ‘This is why it’s so slow,’ and we haven’t really gotten that back,” Beggs said.

The city of Spokane has approved applications totaling a little more than half of the $13.1 million in rental assistance funds the city received this year, with another $12.1 million on the way.

“Momentum has been growing,” Coddington said. “About half of the initial two funding sources has been distributed with more going out each week.”

Beggs’ proposal could be adopted as an emergency ordinance, but doing so would require the support of five of the council’s seven members. He told The Spokesman-Review this week that he does not know if he has the votes to do so.

Even if the protections are adopted after Nov. 1, Beggs does not see the effort as futile.

“We’re going to be, by all accounts, distributing rental assistance for a while, so it would potentially apply even if it didn’t protect every person,” Beggs said.