At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in late March 2020, more than 600 Vashonites were laid off and filed for regular unemployment (UI).
By late April 2020, another 800 Vashonites, who normally would not qualify for unemployment benefits, started receiving Pandemic Unemployment Benefits (PUA). These benefits enabled the 1,400 suddenly unemployed islanders to continue to pay for housing, food, medications, health insurance, etc., during surge after surge.
Many people resumed working or found new jobs, but when all pandemic assistance ended on September 4, 2021, approximately 140 Vashonites lost all benefits. (Only 43 are still receiving non-pandemic benefits.) Now, the rent is due and mortgage-payment deferrals are about to end.
Fortunately, we live in a very progressive state with programs to address both issues. The Washington State Department of Commerce has been administering the Foreclosure Fairness Program (FFP) since 2012, requiring a mediation session between the borrower (the homeowner) and the beneficiary (the bank) before proceeding to foreclosure. With the help of many Obama-era programs, many borrowers were able to modify their loans to affordable payments and avoid foreclosure.
FFP is still available to Washington homeowners, accessible to Vashonites through the King County Dispute Resolution Center (KCDRC) for a $600 charge, split between the parties. I have been doing these mediations (pro bono) since the beginning and have seen how cathartic it is for borrowers to finally find a path to keep their homes.
As the eviction moratorium ends, the Washington Courts are requiring a meet-and-confer mediation session between the tenant and the housing provider (aka, the landlord) before filing an unlawful detainer (aka, eviction) action with the court. The Eviction Resolution Pilot Program (ERPP) is also accessible through the KCDRC. Not only is the program free to all parties, but the tenant can opt for free legal assistance from the Housing Justice Project.
I have just started doing the ERPP mediations (also pro bono) and trust that the process will lead to win-win outcomes.
Before the case ever comes to the (virtual) table, KCDRC will assist the tenant in accessing whatever rent assistance funding is available from federal, state, and county funds. The (virtual) mediation session then focuses on a reasonable repayment plan for the balance of the back rent. When the housing provider accepts rent-assistance funds, the monthly repayment can be no more than an additional 1/3 of the current rent and the housing provider commits to no rent increases or eviction (even for non-payment) for at least 6 months.
In one of my first ERPP mediations, the housing provider agreed to wait until January 1, 2022, to receive rent assistance for September to December 2021 and then start a repayment plan to enable the tenant to finish a college course which would get her off of unemployment and back into a Boeing job.
So, don’t despair. There are resources available to help you find a way forward. Contact KCDRC at (206) 463-9603, ext. 111 or kcdrc.org.
As detailed in Hilary Emmer’s column last week, PSE has utility assistance funds and the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness has remaining virus-rent funds and up to $500/month rent assistance for eligible renters selected by lottery.
Please note that I will not be doing Vashon foreclosure or eviction mediations to avoid any potential conflict of interest — or awkward encounters in the Thriftway aisles.
— Deborah Diamond is a retired IRS Governmental Liaison who has provided more than 1,600 free telephone consultations with islanders regarding stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, etc. through Vashon Be Prepared and the Vashon Chamber of Commerce “Ask An Expert” program. For assistance, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Deborah’s portrait was done by Pam Ingalls for her “Local Heroes” exhibit at The Hardware Store Restaurant Gallery in July 2020.