Washington tenants face a looming wave of evictions, sky-high rents, sign-censoring property managers, a slow and unresponsive legislature, and a handful of other COVID-related and non-COVID-related indignities. Now, on top of all that, some must spend their spare time hunting for spare change.
Last month, Beacon Hill renter Issac Organista and his girlfriend headed down to Olympia on a day-trip. He was excited to get out of town for a little bit, but he had something else on his mind, too: “Maybe this will be an opportunity to get quarters," he thought.
Like many renters in the Seattle area, Organista's apartment complex uses a coin laundry system that only accepts quarters. He pays $1.50 per load for the washer (which limits users to cold-water cycles only) and $1.50 per load for the dryer.
Given the amount of money he spends on ever-rising rent and utilities, he resents paying any amount of money to use the laundry machines, but normally the relatively low cost doesn't bother him too much. It's just another god damned thing that chips away at his finances. The COVID-induced nationwide coin shortage, however, has turned a weekly chore into a daily anxiety.
Organista's troubles started on a laundry day in early July. He walked into a nearby Chase bank branch and asked a teller for a roll of quarters, but the teller said they were out. A few days later he visited the same branch again. The teller told him they were still out, and that they'd "been out for a while because of the coin shortage." He had the same bad luck at a nearby Bank of America and at a local grocery store.
Organista said he got down to his "last two clean undergarments" before finally scoring a roll of quarters from a Chase bank in Olympia. "I got one roll. They said it was their last one," he said.
When that roll runs out, Organista said he might have to impose upon his girlfriend's or his friends' laundry facilities if he can't find more coins.
"It sucks, but at least I don’t have to worry about getting evicted and losing my home. It's just one small example of the exploitative nature of our housing system," he said.
It's unclear how many renters are experiencing this issue. Anecdotally, I've only heard of tenants in a couple of other Seattle-area apartment buildings who are now on a seemingly endless hunt for quarters. My own property manager sells us back the quarters we spend on the laundry machines, but sometimes she runs out, too. Other building managers have installed credit card machines, and still others have connected their laundry machines to an app called PayRange, which allows tenants to pay for loads by phone, as it were.
But I sense that many of us are suffering in silence. If you're also struggling to find coins for laundry, shoot me an email describing your plight, and offer any solutions if you've found, because the coin shortage doesn't seem to be ending any time soon.
According to the U.S. Mint, shutdowns related to COVID-19 have caused a "disruption of the supply channels of circulating coinage." Fresh coins from the Mint account for 17% of the supply chain, and the rest comes from "third-party coin processors and retail activity."
Though the Mint had to slow down shortly after the pandemic hit, they say they've been operating “at full production” since mid-June. They're now reportedly on track to pump out "1.65 billion coins per month for the remainder of the year," up from an average of 1 billion coins per month last year. But less cash exchanged due to decreased retail activity and coin-hoarding means fewer coins circulating in the system, which means fewer quarters for the unlaundered clothing of Seattle tenants.
One bank teller told me they have to keep a certain amount of change on hand for customers who cash checks at the counter, which puts a hard limit on the number of rolls they can exchange for cash.
Chase bank spokesperson Darcy Donahoe-Wilmot said quarter density "depends on the branch," and said the company is "moving coins to branches that need them." She recommends customers call ahead before they venture out.
In a statement, a spokesperson for KeyBank said, "We are currently monitoring the coin shortage and information from the Federal Reserve. We have guidelines in place for our branches to manage their coin circulation and will continue to work to minimize the impact on our clients."
With the banks rationing coins, the only thing people can do to help is to get rid of their coin cache and start responsibly spending more cash.
Kyle Hayden, an accountant at the Washington Bankers Association, encourages coin-hoarders to go to Coinstar. "If you've got jugs of coins, just dump them into the Coinstar. We have to get them back in circulation," he said.