There’s Legal Help Available for Those Facing Eviction

By Gordon McHenry, Jr., on March 20, 2024 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, Fighting Homelessness, News

United Way of King County partners with the Seattle-based Housing Justice Project to provide free, legal assistance to renters facing eviction. The Housing Justice Project is a division of the King County Bar Association and has on-staff lawyers, volunteer lawyers, and other legal professionals dedicated to helping people stay in their homes. United Way is proud to be connected with the Housing Justice Project, particularly at a time when resources needed to keep people housed are in high demand.

In May 2022, King County officials placed United Way in charge of the county’s federally supported emergency rental assistance program. During one period, United Way distributed about $1 million a week in rental assistance—the equivalent of about 85 households each receiving nine months of back rent and three months of future rent.

But much of that federal funding, which was available during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been discontinued, and the waiting list for people needing rental assistance has grown from several hundred to more than 11,000—with more than 1,600 applicants added each month.

If you’re one of the many people in our area facing or at risk of eviction, know that legal assistance is available—even if rental assistance is not. Attorneys can help clients negotiate settlements with landlords to stave off evictions. In addition to providing free legal assistance, United Way’s eviction protection work also provides flexible funds and case management.

Eviction prevention, through rental assistance and legal support, is buoyed by our belief in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, which says, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [themselves] and of [their] family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

Housing is a human right, even when shortages of affordable housing and the high cost of rent make it difficult for people to remain housed. We believe that legal support can help uphold that human right by helping people navigate our complex judicial system. But legal support should extend to everyone, not just those with financial means.

At United Way, our aspirational goal is to see everyone in our community living in safe and stable housing, which is possible only if everyone can successfully navigate bouts of housing instability. We want everyone to have every means possible to stave off eviction because we know that an inability to do so usually leads to homelessness within a few months.

We don’t want people waiting and hoping things will resolve themselves; seek advice from a professional and have the support you need when experiencing a period of housing instability.

Gordon McHenry, Jr., United Way of King County president and CEO

That’s why it’s important for people to know: Even if you’ve signed up on a rental assistance waiting list or are awaiting a housing voucher, you should still seek legal support if you’ve been served an eviction notice.

I think back to when I was a practicing attorney: I was more effective, and my clients benefitted more when I was brought in early in a situation or a crisis. That’s why we say that when it comes to using support like those offered by the Housing Justice Project, act now.

We don’t want people waiting and hoping things will resolve themselves; seek advice from a professional and have the support you need when experiencing a period of housing instability.

People sometimes joke that we are a litigious society, and there is accuracy in that. But it is imperative that we have a knowledge of rights and responsibilities. And benefiting from those rights is often dependent upon receiving legal advice and services.

When I was a young lawyer, like many lawyers, I was encouraged to do pro bono, or for free, legal advice. One of the cases I took was a landlord-tenant dispute. I was able to negotiate a resolution of the issue and I’m glad I was able to.

But the path to get there was rocky. The person was incredibly stressed out over the fear of being evicted. But the landlord knew they had an attorney. She tracked me down and I was able to de-escalate the situation.

Over the years, I’ve seen many people in the same situation as that client. The fear of losing one’s apartment or townhouse puts people in a world of hurt. What they need is support. We at United Way are proud to offer that support through our work with the Housing Justice Project. If you are in such a situation, click here. Perhaps we can help you.


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