What can you do if you owe months of rent?
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — For thousands worried about having past-due rent as the state’s eviction ban ends June 30, there is help.
There won’t be immediate evictions July 1. New state laws prevent that. Among these laws, a landlord must offer the tenant a reasonable repayment plan to return to good payment standing before moving to evict.
One way out is through the county’s rent relief program handled through the Volunteers of America Western Washington (VOA).
This rental assistance covers up to 15 months of unpaid back rent from March 2020 onward.
There are three methods to see if you’re eligibile: Call the 211 hotline, call a VOA community resource center or get in touch with the Communities of Color Coalition (C3), the Latino Educational Training Institute or the Everett-based organization Helping Hands.
There are VOA community centers in Lake Stevens, Sultan and Arlington. The Lake Stevens center is at 9501 Vernon Road (inside The Lake Church). Its number is 425-405-2252.
Landlords can act to secure funding by emailing email@example.com or visiting www.voaww.org/fairhousing
More than 9,000 county households have already signed up as of last week, said Galina Volchkova, VOA’s Housing Director.
The VOA is contracted with the county to pay millions of dollars. Most of this money is federal dollars from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Mortgage assistance is not part of this program. The state has a hotline for mortgage payment advice, though. It’s 1-877-RING-DFI (746-4334).
Eligibility starts with two key things: Income and being able to show COVID-19 hampered your ability to pay rent.
The income barrier is arguably generous. A single person earning less than $63,350 a year could qualify; for a household of four, that line is $90,500 or less.
If you have a well-paying job today but fell behind on rent during last year from being out of work, it might not disqualify you. Eligibility screeners can look back to your 2020 tax return
to determine if you qualify, Volchkova said.
The rent relief program opened in April with a wave of callers. Another wave is expected as July 1 nears.
Callers are most often anxious and stressed over the possibility they’ll lose their housing, said two people from VOA.
Volchkova asks people to be patient. There is a backlog of upward of 7,000 households, and the VOA is enrolling 200 new clients each week. “We’re distributing these rental assistance dollars as fast as we can,” she said.
More than $14 million in rent checks have already been paid, she said, and there is $30 million more to go.
Even if the money hasn’t been released yet, “we will stay engaged with the landlord” on how things are going, she said. “For those waiting, please be patient.”
Rent relief inquiries are accounting for over half the callers to 211 these days, with more than 14,000 inquiries in the past nine weeks, said Levi Van Dyke, Deputy Director of Behavioral Health Services for VOA.
People began calling in January. The hotline added seven more call-takers, which doubled its staff, to absorb the volume, he said.
Who’s not eligible? People who had a steady income but simply chose to skip paying their rent under the shield of the moratorium might be one example, Volchkova said. For anyone ineligible for rent relief, 211 will work to find other solutions, Van Dyke said.
The moratorium was to keep people housed during the coronavirus pandemic. In April, Gov. Jay Inslee signed off on state legislation to end the moratorium June 30 that also includes new tenant protections, such as establishing a statewide eviction resolution program and providing tenants legal representation in eviction cases. Some politicians said June 30 doesn’t give people enough time to get help. Mom-and-pop landlords, on the flip side of the coin, were especially pinched by non-paying tenants during the moratorium. Seattle’s City Council this month expanded an in-city eviction ban beyond June 30 in a package of local tenant laws.
Northwest Justice Project - Everett office: 425-252-8515, press 2 if first-time caller
VOAWW Dispute Resolution Center (issues between tenants and landlords):
Toll-free legal aid known as the CLEAR Hotline, from Northwest Justice Project: 1-888-201-1014 weekdays between 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
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