Eviction concerns still loom over some Midway residents

Confusion over rental assistance, tenant responsibility and rights has organizations concerned

PORT ORCHARD — At the end of July, the Kitsap Rescue Mission decided to relocate to the Quality Inn in Bremerton, shifting from their plan to move into the Midway Inn in Bremerton, after long-term residents at the Midway would have potentially faced eviction to accommodate KRM residents.

But since the change, leaders of organizations who provide services to Midway residents have expressed concern not only about the still looming potential for evictions but also that services the Midway once allowed residents to receive have been banned.

One such service is the delivery of meals by Marwan Cameron’s organization, Gather Together Grow Together.

“The owner of the motel said, ‘Don’t bring that food here no more, we don’t want that food.’ And that was based on the loss of the contract,” Cameron said.

Leaders from these organizations, as well as some Midway residents and Matt Garrett of Housing Solutions through Kitsap Community Resources, gathered on Aug. 9 to discuss these concerns.

Kenesha Lewis from the organization Hope 360 that serves Midway residents said she has heard that those who expressed concern with having KRM move into the Midway are now facing a backlash by not getting toilet paper restocked or by being locked out of their rooms.

One resident who spoke at the meeting said he hasn’t seen the contract he signed with the Midway since moving in. His understanding was that he could stay there for four months but is now being told he must leave after less than three months. The resident also said residents are not allowed to have visitors.

The Midway Inn declined to comment for this article.

The situation at the Midway is complicated — some residents receive rental assistance to stay at the motel and some of this assistance has now run out. Further aggravating the situation is the fact that in Gov. Jay Inslee’s housing stability “bridge” proclamation, effective now through Sept. 30, residents of non-traditional housing like motels are not included.

Not every resident at the Midway receives financial assistance to pay for their space, but some do. Garrett has been working with the Midway and residents who do receive assistance to help everyone understand what their assistance covered. Garrett said for most of the residents that Housing Solutions was helping, their assistance ended in June.

Some rental assistance has come through KEPA — the Kitsap Eviction Prevention Assistance program, run through Housing Solutions and funded by federal dollars through the Coronavirus Relief Fund and soon the American Rescue Plan. Before the Midway was even being considered as an option for KRM’s new location, Garrett said they were providing assistance to about 28 residents there through KEPA.

The program can assist those who qualify by providing 12 months of payments. Garrett said there are three criteria clients must meet to qualify:

1. They are under 50% of the area’s median income;

2. Their housing status is vulnerable, typically meaning they are behind on rent;

3. They have been financially impacted by COVID-19;

The program was designed for renters who are leasing space, but with the lack of affordable housing in the county, KEPA can also serve those who have long-term stay agreements in a motel, such as the Midway.

In 2021, the program can only provide assistance once. However, Garrett said the program currently has a long waitlist of about 400 people.

KEPA is more a band-aid attempt to address the multifaceted problems attendant to homelessness in the county: the paucity of affordable housing, increasing rental costs and unemployment.

But confusion over timelines and what the responsibilities are for some residents has left a tangled web to sort out. Deborah Jackson of Surviving Change and Hope 360 said at the Aug. 9 meeting that she has heard from some residents who paid to stay at the motel after they filled out an application for assistance. Since they had been paying, residents were confused about when they were supposed to pay rent.

Jackson said she has directed some residents to attorneys to seek a clearer understanding of their rights.

Joanne Sprague, executive director of Kitsap Legal Services, said if someone is facing an eviction, they should carefully read any notices they have received and seek legal counsel.

“The state has put a lot of money into providing legal resources for people facing eviction,” Sprague said, advising people that their chance of negotiation and the possibility of staying in their home is increased by speaking with a lawyer.

This spring, Sprague said Washington legislators passed bills that further protect tenants — House Bill 1236, which limits reasons for evictions, and Senate Bill 5160.

Part of SB 5160 is the right to counsel, meaning that courts must provide an attorney for indigent individuals, which Sprague hopes will be implemented by this fall. And individuals facing eviction will now have the option to go through an eviction resolution process with the Dispute Resolution Center.

The legislation was passed in hopes of addressing the backlog of evictions from the impacts of COVID-19. Sprague explained that this is why Inslee’s directive is called a “bridge” proclamation; it is meant to bridge the time between the end of the eviction moratorium and the implementation of these new pieces of legislation that will help tenants avoid eviction.

Those seeking legal assistance through Kitsap Legal Services can call 360-479-6125, email gethelp@kitsaplegalservices.org or seek assistance in-person at 920 Park Ave. in Bremerton. Once the right to counsel from SB 5160 is implemented, courts will appoint lawyers to these cases.