Today the city council voted 5 to 3 against a resolution proposed by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant to extend the city’s moratoria on residential and commercial evictions. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda, and Sawant voted yes. Councilmembers Andrew Lewis, Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen, Dan Strauss, and Debora Juarez voted no. Councilmember Tammy Morales was absent.
Earlier this month, Mayor Bruce Harrell gave renters a two-week notice before giving landlords a license to kick renters to the curb for nonpayment for the first time in nearly two years. His decision came at a time when it became clear that there wouldn't be enough rental assistance to help the 124,000 households in the greater Seattle metro area who reported being behind on rent, according to census data.
In response to the Mayor’s move, Sawant and her office rushed to put together a resolution that would extend the moratoria until the end of the civil emergency, as renter advocates have long demanded.
During the meeting, Lewis, Nelson, and Pedersen did not comment on their vote. Juarez rattled off a bunch of the renter protections the council had passed, many proposed by Sawant in response to demands from renter advocates.
“We knew this moratorium would not last forever,” Juarez said. “We cannot have a healthy economy if nobody pays rent.”
Strauss acknowledged that the city does not have enough rental assistance to accommodate the “cliff” that the moratorium is creating. He would have supported a moratorium extension tied to a specific date, but because of the vagueness of this resolution’s cutoff, he voted no and promised to bring forth more protections.
Along those lines, Herbold proposed an amendment to water-down the resolution. It would have temporarily extended the moratorium to April 30 so that the council could explore alternative measures. She also thought extending the moratorium indefinitely could invite more litigation that would threaten other, more valuable protections. The amendment failed: Councilmembers Lewis, Nelson, Pedersen, Juarez, and Sawant voted no.
“Renters have lived in constant fear of the moratorium through several three-month extensions of the moratorium, then one month and two weeks. Either there is an emergency or there isn't, and, in my view, the moratorium is justified as long as there is an emergency,” Sawant said, likely the only one to vote against the amendment because it would water down the resolution. She said that passing the resolution with the amendment would be better than nothing, though.
The decision to end the moratorium won’t make the council many friends with renters, but, if public comment was any indication, it will certainly delight landlords. At least 84 people signed up for public comment, and most spoke in favor of Sawant’s resolution.
“Progressive council members are talking in circles when they make promises to fix homelessness, but stay quiet when they have the chance to save thousands from becoming homeless,” one commenter said.
During the public comment period, landlords who own few properties asked the council to prioritize their passive income. They complained of tenants taking advantage of the system, many citing incidents that would not be protected by the moratorium. Sawant likened these arguments to former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric around immigrants, and the racist and classist “welfare queen” arguments that gutted social services.
The Housing Justice Project (HJP) objected to the narrative that small landlords are trapped with problematic tenants. Tram Tran-Larson, the community engagement manager at HJP, said small landlords filed 23% of Seattle's evictions during the moratorium.
Like Council President Juarez, many landlords also justified lifting the moratorium by citing the number of renter protections the council passed. Tran-Larson reminded the council that they built the protections as court defenses; since many renters do not show up to court, many cannot take advantage of the protections. Sawant said those legislative victories were important, but they were not a “substitute for extending the lifeline of the eviction moratorium.”
Cory Brewer, vice president of residential operations at Windermere, argued that he hadn’t seen data suggested lifting the moratorium would trigger a tsunami of evictions. Tran-Larson didn’t let that one slide, either. She said that in Auburn and Federal Way eviction filings nearly doubled after their moratoria ended. In Seatac and Des Moines, filings nearly tripled. In Redmond, filings almost quadrupled.
After the vote, the managing attorney at HJP, Edmund Witter, told The Stranger he believed the council's decision was shortsighted.
“It’s kind of hard to believe, you know?” Witter said. “It's definitely a sign the city is moving on earlier than they probably should. We're not really as prepared as we think we are.”