If the Seattle City Council has its way, next winter will be a little less cold for many Seattleites. On Monday, the council unanimously passed a bill to prohibit some residential evictions in the city between December 1 and March 1. Sponsored by Kshama Sawant, the legislation underwent some last-minute changes that the council member wasn’t thrilled about—notably, the original bill’s enforcement spanned November 1 to April 1. But the potential law (mayor Jenny Durkan could force another vote by veto) would protect low- and moderate-income tenants during the chilliest months against what Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted author Matthew Desmond once called “a direct cause of homelessness.”
The bill cited findings from a more local publication that delved into the topic. In 2018 the Seattle Women’s Commission and King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project released “Losing Home: The Human Cost of Eviction in Seattle.” The report analyzed 1,218 residential eviction cases in Seattle during 2017 and surveyed 72 evicted tenants. Of those respondents, 37.5 percent said they were “completely unsheltered” during the aftermath of their evictions. Another 25 percent lived in shelters or transitional housing. Though the case review wasn’t mentioned in Council Bill 119726, it revealed that rent nonpayment prompted 86.5 percent of eviction filings, 52.3 percent of which were for one month or less.
Landlords owning four or fewer units wouldn’t be subject to the new legislation, and tenants engaged in criminal activity or “nuisance” can still be expelled from their homes. But don't expect smaller landlord operations to be silenced by those aspects of the bill. Having to wait until spring for a new tenants' payments could be costly for those businesses, though an amendment allows for some funding to support housing providers. Adding to the discord, Mayor Durkan's office has expressed concerns about the bill's long-term legal and housing implications.
Supporters and detractors can at least agree on one thing: This is a rare and perhaps unprecedented bill on a national level. Sounds like a compelling talking point for Democratic presidential candidates as they ramp up their Washington campaigning in the weeks before the state party’s first meaningful primary.