By Sydney Brown
WNPA Olympia News Service
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law an automatic right for tenants to have an attorney, though it came with a catch — Inslee sent back two parts of the bill regarding landlord rental assistance.
In a memo after the April 22 bill signing, Inslee said the measure lacked guidance for how landlords could qualify for the rental assistance.
“It creates an entitlement for landlords to receive rent assistance without a sufficient framework to prioritize resources to those landlords who have the greatest need,” Inslee wrote in the release.
The amendments addressed issues he already took care of in another bill signed this session, Inslee wrote. HB 1368 includes $2 million in grant opportunities for eligible landlords, he said.
Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, who sponsored the amendments Inslee vetoed, said she was disappointed in the governor’s action. Caldier’s amendments would have allocated another $7 million specifically for landlords.
“I find it odd that the governor has vetoed language his own agency provided to me and that I worked in good faith to have added to the bill,” Caldier said.
Section 12 of the bill provided that the state Department of Commerce must provide rental assistance until March 31, 2022, directly to a landlord for indigent tenants unable to receive other services outlined in the legislation.
Section 13 would have appropriated $7.5 million through the next biennium to the Department of Commerce for a new landlord assistance program. It will provide grants to eligible landlords for rent that was not paid during the eviction moratorium extension enacted by the governor’s proclamation, 20-19.6, on March 18.
Section 13 was negotiated and inserted in the bill as Amendment 654 by Caldier, who is the ranking Republican on the House Housing, Human Services and Veterans Committee.
The new law includes a June 30 end to a year-long eviction moratorium passed last year, which had been added to the bill. More than 200,000 Washingtonians are behind on rent and face eviction, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We’re looking at a cliff come June 30 with thousands of families at risk of entering into homelessness,” Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, the bill’s main sponsor.
“The provisions in SB 5160 will certainly help, but more time is needed to get all the resources in place. We are working with the governor and other interested parties to determine how much time is needed to ensure we don’t see a wave of evictions on July 1.”
Two years added to eviction moratorium
The original bill added another two years to the eviction moratorium, which many Republican lawmakers said would hurt landlords who could not survive another two years.
SB 5160 will also make Washington the first state to secure an automatic right to counsel for tenants, which supporters say will help balance power between a landlord and their renter.
Paula Sardinas, a member of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs who also served on Inslee’s eviction moratorium task force, said the inequitable impact of COVID-19 meant many Black renters were hurt by the economic and emotional toll of the pandemic.
Although Black residents comprise 4.5% of the population, they represent 68% of renters, Sardinas said.
“We think that this policy has been necessary because of the disparate impact brought on by COVID,” Sardinas said. “We know that the Black community had problems paying their rent prior to COVID, and this is a good path forward.”
— Bob Smith contributed to this story.