South King County renters need more assistance

Some of the most significant need for rental assistance in King County is in South King County, said Hedda McLendon, director of COVID emergency services.

Thousands of renters in Auburn, Kent and Renton are awaiting rental assistance through King County’s Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program (EPRAP), McLendon said.

Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and Renton are in the top 10 cities with the highest need for assistance, according to EPRAP data.

Across those four cities, 11,601 renters have applied for assistance as of Oct. 17, according to EPRAP data, but only 760 renters have actually received the assistance.

One of the things slowing the process down was the rules requiring documentation from both the landlord and the renters, McLendon said.

“You must prove that one, you are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID directly or indirectly, and two, that you’re at risk of experiencing homelessness or are currently unstable,” McLendon said.

Tenants also have to prove that they make 50% or less of the median area income. For a family of two, this is about $47,000 in annual income, and $59,000 for a family of four.

Landlords have to show that the tenant in question has a lease and is behind on their rent payments, McLendon said.

Up until recently, tenants and landlords had to show actual documentation that proved those prerequisites for assistance, McLendon said. However, the Department of Treasury issued guidance on Aug. 25, allowing for attestation in lieu of documentation, McLendon said.

Attestation means instead of digging up the documents to prove a tenant is eligible, now landlords and tenants can attest or testify that they meet the criteria for assistance, McLendon said. This change in rules has drastically increased the number of people EPRAP is able to serve each week, McLendon said.

“For King County as a whole, last week we served 430 households, so we got all the information from the tenants and all the information from the landlords and the landlords agreed to the payment,” McLendon said.

In addition to this, EPRAP revamped its data system in August to more efficiently process the applications, said Leo Flor, director of the county’s Department of Community and Human Services. Prior to this, EPRAP was using Excel and pieces of paper to process $37 million in rental assistance, Flor said.

Once an application is processed, the average payment received for back rent is over $11,000. This is much higher than the $8,000 that EPRAP projected the average payment to be, Flor said.

The average number of months a tenant is past due on their rent is eight months, McLendon said.

There are three main avenues for applying to rental assistance through EPRAP. The first is the “large landlord strategy,” this strategy allows landlords to apply for rental assistance on behalf of all of the tenants in their portfolio, McLendon said. About 320 landlords who rent housing to 15 to 25,000 tenants in King County applied for rental assistance through the large landlord strategy earlier this spring, McLendon said.

“There are residents in Auburn and Kent and Renton where their landlord applied on their behalf, and are working through the system in a bulk way,” McLendon said.

Assistance for those renters is expected to be available in November, but even after the eviction moratorium ends, they won’t be evicted, McLendon said.

“For those tenants, their landlord has committed to not evicting them even when the moratoriums lift because they know we are working through them,” McLendon said.

Another way people can apply for rental assistance is online through the tenant portal on King County’s website. This is a self-service portal that is available in several languages where tenants can register in the tenant pool.

The third way people can sign up for rental assistance is through a community based organization that can help sign up people, McLendon said. This avenue is good for people who aren’t comfortable with signing up online or who don’t have internet access.

When the moratorium ends

Unlike with the large landlord strategy, when individual tenants apply for rental assistance, there is no guarantee they won’t be evicted when the moratorium ends. However, they have policies in place to prevent those evictions, McLendon said.

“For any reason, if any of these tenants who are applying on their own because they’re behind, get evicted for non-payment of rent once the moratorium lifts, we do have funding at the courts,” McLendon said. “We have three legal supports and services and if the case makes it to court, right there on the spot we have the housing justice project that will pay the rent for them.”

This eviction prevention is a stop-gap solution and seen as a last resort by EPRAP, McLendon said. To prevent this from happening, EPRAP is working to quickly process the applications of individual renters.

EPRAP has worked to ensure the rental assistance is doled out in an equitable manner. Around 72% of the recipients of rental assistance are Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) families or households, Flor said. This is important because BIPOC people have historically had the highest rate for risk of eviction, Flor said.

Despite the difference in housing costs, more renters in South King County are in need of assistance compared to their neighbors in Seattle.

According to EPRAP, so far 6,482 residents in Seattle have applied for rental assistance. That’s about 0.89% of the total population. In Auburn, 1,826 people have applied for rental assistance, which amounts to about 2.2% of the total population, so in proportion to the size of the city, more people in Auburn need rental assistance compared to Seattle. That number is 3.4% in Federal Way, 2.2% in Renton and 3.19% in Kent.

In the coming months, the county is expected to have $300 million for EPRAP, Flor said. EPRAP has expended about $51 million of its $123 million budget and will receive another $177 million to be expended through the end of this year and into the next, Flor said.

To handle this influx of money, EPRAP has dramatically increased the number of staff processing applications from 19 in the first week of September to 80 in the first week of October, Flor said.

Despite many businesses re-opening, people are still applying for rental assistance. Around 10,000 new families have applied in the last five weeks, and there’s no sign of it slowing down, Flor said.

Learn more

If you need to apply for rental assistance visit the King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program website. If you’re looking to get connected with a community based organization, call 206-477-1331. Tenants can go in-person to one of these organizations and a staff member will sign the tenant up for assistance.

Uptown Square in Federal Way. File photo

Uptown Square in Federal Way. File photo