My 76-year-old mother and I have shared a two-bedroom apartment in Belltown for 10 years. Like many Seattle renters, this time last year, we were barely getting by.
We pay for rent through our combined incomes. I contribute what I make as a freelance agent at conventions and as a memorabilia purveyor, and she contributes money from her caretaking and child care work.
I have also been living with achalasia, a life-threatening condition that basically kills my esophagus and makes eating nearly impossible, which, of course, has curbed my ability to work a steady job. The cost of surgeries I need to survive have eaten up my past 12 years of savings.
This is all to say that before the pandemic even hit, life for us was already filled with roadblocks and regular existential threats. I could not have imagined how much worse it could get.
We fell behind on rent in March because I spent money on the vet in an attempt to save my dog’s life. Unfortunately, my dog didn’t make it, and it took us a couple weeks to scrounge up enough money to pay my landlord.
Come April, jobs dried up for my mom and me. My work is completely tied to conventions, so all the income I planned to bring in this summer was gone almost in an instant. We haven’t been able to make rent ever since.
Our lease ends at the end of July, and our landlord says we have to go unless we can pay back the rent we owe. Since we don’t have good cause protections for termed leases in Seattle, I can still be kicked out of my home, even under the eviction moratorium. Sadly, the payment plan my landlord offered doesn’t provide any relief because it adds an additional $1,000 on top of rent I already can’t afford due to the pandemic.
This is a situation I would not wish on anyone, yet I know I am far from alone in this horrible experience. More than one third of renters across the country couldn’t pay their July rent. And with expanded unemployment benefits running out next week, more folks like me will be pushed into homelessness as the coronavirus continues to spread.
While lawmakers may be afraid of political pushback from landlords, it’s unacceptable for them not to take action to stop this crisis.
Without legislative intervention, whole communities will be devastated. My mother and I are both vulnerable to the virus, so our lives would be in danger if we’re forced out of our home, but so would the lives of the people we will come into contact with. We’re able to practice social distancing now, but becoming homeless and needing to rely on shelters would make that more difficult.
To protect vulnerable families like mine, and to protect the whole community from another spike in COVID-19 cases instigated by sending thousands more people into homelessness, Seattle and King County lawmakers need to act quickly. The moratorium is almost up, and renters like me are subject to being forced out regardless, because the moratorium isn’t comprehensive.
Seattle and King County lawmakers can follow the lead of other city leaders, like the ones in Oakland, by protecting renters from eviction through non-lease renewal, and by making rent non-possessory so renters can’t be physically kicked out for missing rent during the pandemic. They could also enact good cause eviction protections so landlords don’t can’t use loopholes to kick out renters. Our city and county electeds have the power to legally implement these protections, so I hope, for the sake of our community’s survival, that they have the will to stop this terrifying crisis.
I am supposed to go in for another major surgery that could make it feasible for me to eat regularly. If I don’t get it, I will lose my ability to swallow and will starve. The surgery could kill me, but, if it goes well, it would require six months of recovery. I hope our electeds fight for me so I can get the surgery I need, survive, and recover safely in my own home with my mother and a roof over our heads.
Mike Fulop is a Washington CAN member and lived in Seattle for 12 years. He and his mother currently are living in a Belltown apartment.