Rental Assistance Will Help Thousands, But More Is Needed
As the pandemic continues to ravage the local economy, with thousands still unemployed and more businesses shuttering and leading to more joblessness, the need for rental assistance has become more critical. Communities of color, in particular, are disproportionally impacted by this crisis.
Local and state bans of evictions have helped to keep families housed, but those rents are accumulating in the form of debt, so renters are not off the hook. According to King County, almost 60% of calls to 2-1-1 in August and September were related to housing assistance. 2-1-1 is a helpline where people can obtain information on how to access resources, such as housing, food and utilities assistance.
Recently, King County and the City of Seattle established programs to support tenants who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. The funds come from their own coffers but also include federal dollars through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
New Efforts to Help
The county and city have granted $16 million and $12 million, respectively, to United Way’s Home Base program to work with tenants, landlords and others to help with rental assistance. United Way is working with community-based organizations to distribute the funds.
This new effort follows April’s rental assistance program, which helped nearly 3,000 households, or about 9,100 people. Nearly three-quarters of those who were helped were people of color, according to the latest data from United Way.
One of United Way’s grantees is the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, which helped to implement the rental assistance program in April. Linda Taylor, the organization’s VP of housing and financial empowerment, said these funds will help some people, but not all.
“The need is overwhelming,” Taylor said. “It goes way beyond what we can provide.”
According to Lauren McGowan, United Way senior director for ending homelessness and poverty, this new effort will help more than 7,000 households.
“But we know that there are thousands more in need of assistance due to the health and economic impact of COVID-19,” McGowan said.
Taylor said that as people of color move further south, it is a little more difficult to keep them informed about the types of assistance that is available. The digital divide is an impediment to get help to people who need it—many people don’t have ready access to computers or the internet, for example.
Taylor added that the Urban League tries to get the word out through media, but there’s another issue.
“There is pride. I run into more people getting into debt, who have borrowed money, instead of taking advantage of these programs,” Taylor stated. “They are too proud to ask for assistance.”
This crisis is unlike anything Taylor has seen, she said.
“We can only compare this to a major disaster, such as fires, where people end up with no homes,” said Taylor. In this case, she added, “People have homes but are in constant fear of not being able to keep up.”
Taylor said she’d like to see the federal government agree to some kind of additional assistance.
“People are waiting for relief,” she said. “Our livelihoods are in their hands.”
Taylor added that she’s glad that some landlords and others have agreed to help tenants in the area.
“Seattle and King County are very giving places, where people help neighbors,” Taylor said. “We truly help our neighbors as we’ve done in the past, and we’ll continue to do so.”