At the end of last month, over 139,700 tenant households in Washington said they werent caught up on rent.
At the end of last month, over 139,700 tenant households in Washington said they weren't caught up on rent. BLOKHIN / GETTYIMAGES.COM

As tens of thousands of Seattle-area tenants continue to struggle to make rent payments, on Monday Mayor Jenny Durkan's office announced a plan to allocate $19.7 million in "housing assistance for low-income households economically impacted by COVID-19."

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According to the Mayor's office, the money will come from Seattle's portion of the Federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds, the Federal CARES Act Community Development Block Grand Funding, and the city's Joint COVID-19 Relief Plan.

They'll run the funds through United Way of King County's Home Base Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program, with a $4 million boost this year and an $8 million boost next year. The city also "expects" to distribute $4 million in rental assistance through the Seattle Office of Housing, and "nearly $3 million through the Human Service Department's Homelessness Prevention programs," according to a press release.

Lauren McGowan, senior director of ending homelessness and poverty at United Way of King County, applauded the announcement but said "all of the policies and procedures associated with those dollars haven’t been determined yet."

United Way plans to work with the Office of Housing and the Human Services department to determine eligibility and to discuss how the agencies will distribute the money.

Back in April, the city's Office of Housing provided $1 million for United Way's $5 million Home Base program. (The Seattle Foundation, King County, and a handful of big businesses contributed the rest.) The program drew over 4,000 applicants the day the submission portal opened, and had to be closed shortly thereafter. McGowan said United Way's coffers eventually grew to $6.5 million, which ultimately helped them pay rent for 3,100 households across the county.

Because they haven't hammered out the details yet, McGowan couldn't say how many households the city's money will help, "but we know the need is so overwhelming, and there are so many people behind on rent and using credit cards to pay rent, and so these dollars, especially if we can target them to folks most at risk of becoming homeless, will go a long way in helping to ensure we don’t face a wave of evictions come next year," she said.

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The city also plans to "scale up" mortgage relief efforts by allocating $350,000 for "mortgage counseling and homebuyer education" and another $350,000 "to fund foreclosure prevention through homeowner stabilization loans" over the course of 2020 and 2021.

The city's $19 million comes in addition to King County's $41 million rental assistance program, which includes a lottery for small landlords and individual tenants as well as direct payments to large landlords.

According to the latest Housing Pulse Survey, over 139,700 renter households in Washington said they weren't caught up on rent by the end of August. Over 78,500 people reported having "no confidence" in their ability to pay September rent. With people out of work for months and sky-high rent debt piling up, housing advocates guess the state would need $1 billion for rental assistance alone to actually meet the need.

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