What do Amazon, Expedia, Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, Microsoft, and five other giant corporations have in common? They all sparked and perpetuated the housing and homelessness crises devastating the Puget Sound region! But it turns out they also all support modest eviction reform in Washington state. So, yay!
In a letter to Governor Jay Inslee and the state legislature, lawyers representing the region's largest companies—or, as they put it in the letter, "some of Washington’s most significant private employers" lol okay calm down guys—urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 5600 and House Bill 1453. The bills would give renters more time to respond to eviction notices, inform them of available legal assistance, and allow judges to consider the circumstances surrounding eviction. Washington currently has some of the most unfair eviction laws in the country, and these bills would put the state on par with the likes of North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and 23 other states with similar protections.
In the letter, the lawyers called out Washington for lagging behind those states, and said the legislation proposed by State Sen. Patty Kuderer and Rep. Nicole Macri was "a substantial and low-cost step towards addressing our housing crisis."
Xochitl Maykovich, a housing advocate and organizer with Washington Community Action Network, was thrilled about this news. "I think the tenant movement is starting to break through," she said.
Rep. Macri's House bill (HB 1453) got a hearing in the Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning. During testimony, a few landlords and their representatives regurgitated fears about the legislation scaring small landlords into selling off their rental properties, which they argue—without data—would decrease the affordable housing stock in the state. Others said they were afraid of defaulting on their mortgages if the state allows renters up to 21 days to respond to eviction notices, despite the fact that none could provide any evidence of that ever happening.
Not all the landlords were bad, though! Neil Black, a former landlord and member of the Rental Housing Association, said he drove down to Olympia from Kirkland to stan for the bill.
"I've heard some of the tales told by landlords and groups representing landlords, and frankly they strain credulity," Black said. "The thing to remember about small business landlords is they've made a choice to enter into the business of owning rental property. We may have a mortgage, but we've done the math we've determined that it makes sense for us to own a rental property. Contrast that to the tenants we rent to. They're seeking to fill a basic need, a home."
Black went on to argue that commercial renters have 30 days to pay their rent if they fall behind, and they don't automatically have to pay late fees, attorney fees, or court costs like some renters facing eviction do. "I don't need greater protection than people who need a home," he said.
It's nice that Washington's most significant employers are siding with Mr. Neil Black over here, but it should be noted that Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, et al are the reason we're in this mess to begin with.
Years of unchecked growth and tax evasion tactics contributed greatly to our current housing and homelessness crises. Last year Amazon threw a full-on fit and shut down an entire construction project in protest of Seattle trying to tax them a little bit to pay for permanent housing and shelters. Supporting these modest bills this far into the housing crisis is the absolute least these companies could do, and it by no means absolves them for spending much more of their time and money fighting real solutions to the problems that they created. As housing advocates (and Kara Swisher) have suggested, Microsoft, Amazon, and the rest of these giant corporations need to start ponying up billions of dollars—not millions of dollars—for affordable housing, and they need to create opportunities for their employees to become housing advocates. Everything else is just PR.