The ordinance that will stall winter evictions from December to March is still in place. But you wouldn't know that from the letter Mayor Jenny Durkan sent yesterday.
The winter evictions moratorium ordinance sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant passed with a unanimous vote from the Seattle City Council earlier this month. The goal of the moratorium is to prevent people from being evicted during the coldest time of the year. It's meant to prevent those people from ending up on the streets by stalling evictions and providing legal assistance.
Until yesterday, Durkan had made no indication of whether she would sign or veto the bill. She chose to do neither, it turns out. Durkan returned the bill unsigned. That means it will still go into effect as planned. However, the letter she sent to Monica Martinez Simmons, the Seattle City Clerk, announcing the decision sounds a lot like a rebuke:
"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."
She used the space to denounce the ordinance as "flawed" and citing that it will invoke costly legal challenges against the city. She then introduced her own legislation that will include $200,000 in funding to United Way of King County's Home Base program which will be spent on "helping people."
"The Mayor’s legislation—if Council passes it—will do the work of keeping people in their homes," a spokesperson for the mayor's office told The Stranger.
According to Durkan, that $200,000 investment would "leverage $506,813 in private funding" to Home Base.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis will be sponsoring Durkan's proposal in the council next week. As Lewis described his bill, it is not meant to take away from the winter evictions moratorium or change it in any way. It will provide monetary renter assistance.
These are the first public dollars ever donated to Home Base, according to Lewis. He thinks it's a move that could inspire similar donations. Eventually, Lewis said, he hopes to see something like this on an even broader scale.
"I’d like this initial investment to be our pilot in scaling [rental assistance funds] to make sure there are no economic evictions in Seattle at all," Lewis told The Stranger. He's going to make inroads on that goal during the budgeting season this fall.
The immediate goal of the bill is to act as a "safety net to make sure that the moratorium has less of the impact that the landlord community is concerned about," Lewis said. Landlords are concerned they will be left high and dry during winter months if tenants don't have to pay rent. That's the nature of the legal fight Lewis and Durkan are expecting the moratorium to incur.
Durkan ended her letter by encouraging the council to submit more amendments to the moratorium that would "ameliorate the ongoing operational and legal concerns."
Sawant sees this focus on the legal challenges as Durkan working with "the landlord lobby" to denounce the moratorium.
"You don’t achieve progressive victories and certainly don’t show any leadership by not doing anything that we know will be enormously helpful just because there’s going to be a lawsuit," Sawant told The Stranger.
Durkan did not veto the bill, she did not change the bill, and has added a proposal that supports Sawant's goals to help renters. So why is the framing so sour?
"I’m not clear on what it is she’s trying to accomplish," Sawant told The Stranger. "I think she shows a lack of willingness to show leadership."
Regardless, Sawant and her movement are happy about the additional funding for Home Base. The moratorium and rental assistance programs aren't in conflict with each other, both are things Sawant has been fighting for. She said she interprets the additional funding Durkan has announced as "something driven from our movement and a victory that should be claimed by the movement."