Matthew Lang, Seattle small business owner
Matthew Lang, Seattle small business owner Alia Collins-Friedrichs

I am one of the many small business owners who has seen my income evaporate because of the COVID-19 crisis—and, like thousands of Seattle residents, I have not been able to pay my April rent.

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Renters across the city and I need to see Councilmember Lorena González’s bills to support renters passed into law.

I began to feel the effects of the COVID-19 crisis in mid-February. My business, the Body, Heart, and Mind Academy, provides enrichment programs for youth Pre-K-12 in theater arts, parkour, acrobatics, and dance. As schools closed, I went from teaching 13 classes weekly, to suddenly teaching no classes. More than half of my income vanished immediately.

The bills put forward by Councilmember González offer a reasonable safety net for families like mine, and should be passed into law swiftly. CB 119761 will create another defense to eviction due to nonpayment over the next six months and CB 119762 will require landlords to accept payment plans for back rent. These bills will buy critical time for renters to get unemployment benefits from the state as well as resources from the federal stimulus package. They will also give time for local and state governments to fully fund rental assistance.

Like many Seattleites, I had built the foundation of my life around financial precarity, and I was already living paycheck-to-paycheck. I had already gone through a tough winter with my business because I spent the fall recovering from a shoulder surgery that kept me from teaching my movement disciplines, which are some of my most popular course offerings. March was supposed to be the month that I recovered financially. Now, my teaching contracts are all cancelled through the end of the school year, and the summer, my busy season, is very much up in the air. As is next fall.

Unfortunately, because I am classified as a business owner and an independent contractor, I have had trouble filing for unemployment as the pandemic crushed my business. While the federal stimulus package has opened up unemployment to people like me, who knows when that money will actually arrive. The Employment Security Department has had an unprecedented number of applications, and it takes time for resources to be deployed from the federal government. The $1,200 stimulus checks are barely going to make a dent in the need for folks here in Seattle, and they won’t come at all for many, including undocumented immigrants and college students.

Last month I had to sit down with my roommate and have a very frank conversation: I wasn’t going to be able to make my portion of the rent on April 1, and indefinitely after that through this crisis. The City of Seattle and the State of Washington have been leaders on eviction policy during the pandemic, and even the federal government has put in place some protections for renters. But once those moratoriums are lifted, anyone who owes back rent will have to pay in-full immediately or face eviction. I have no idea how I’m going to come up with several thousand dollars if rent is due immediately after the moratorium lifts.

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This is why we need the Seattle City Council to quickly pass Councilmember Lorena González’s legislation, which will require all landlords to allow payment plans for back rent following the COVID-19 crisis. As we slip into an economic recession, and even perhaps a depression, it isn’t just right but critical that we protect thousands of families from falling into homelessness with an eviction on their record.

Payment plans will buy time for renters to catch up with their rent arrears, but this is only part of the solution. All levels of government need to strengthen renter protections as well as significantly invest in rent relief programs. The City of Seattle needs to push the state and federal government to take action where they are unable to, such as implementing freezes on rent increases. The Seattle City Council does have a clear ability to pass legislation to require payment plans, and needs to do so immediately.

Matthew Lang is the owner of Body, Heart, and Mind Academy.