We cannot let the coronavirus attack what makes these communities so special, Councilmember Lisa Herbold said.
"We cannot let the coronavirus attack what makes these communities so special," Councilmember Lisa Herbold said. LESTER BLACK

The Seattle City Council passed legislation to help small businesses and non-profits with rent payments on Monday.

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In a remote-by-way-of-Zoom meeting with only two mute mishaps, the council unanimously passed legislation that will ease the pressure on commercial tenants. It will stop rent increases and allow businesses that can't pay to get on a payment plan that will extend up to six months after the pandemic ends.

The bill, sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold and Tammy Morales, is meant to address the "inherent tension" between the commercial eviction moratorium implemented by Mayor Jenny Durkan and "the fact that rent is still due for folks," Herbold said.

"It establishes a way for property owners to get paid and for small businesses and nonprofits to minimize their rent debt as it may accumulate over the extent of this process," Herbold said.

Only small businesses (50 or fewer employees) that are not a part of a large, non-local chain are eligible. But, Herbold pointed out, small franchisees are still eligible even if their franchisor isn't. Businesses will also need to have experienced financial hardship, like being ordered to close or seeing a 30 percent drop in revenue, in order to qualify.

The idea is to focus on businesses that "most likely to need help." While grant money and small business loans are trickling in, it's unclear when that money will get to business owners who need help now.

"Our small businesses need protection so they have some kind of chance to come back once we are in recovery," Councilmember Tammy Morales chimed in. "This isn't completely rent forgiveness it's just a freeze on increases and they have a full year to pay the money back."

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The bill passed unanimously.

Council President Lorena Gonzalez commended the bill. She has a bill that would create more protections and payment plans for residential tenants in the works. That's expected to be finalized later this month.

"Everything we can do to create as much stability as we can in this space is going to be absolutely critical so we can allow people the best opportunity to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Gonzalez said.