As thousands more workers across the state face layoffs and are forced to stay at home, one thing is weighing heavy on some people’s minds; “How am I going to pay rent on April 1?”
Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week a 30-day state-wide ban on residential evictions for rent-nonpayment, but unanswered questions about how long people will be out of work adds to fears instead of quelling them.
Housing advocates have called on Inslee and other local and national agencies to follow suit with countries such as Italy, and suspend mortgage and rent payments to ease the economic impact of the closures.
State assistance is available for many who have lost work—and thousands more than usual are applying. Between March 8 and March 14, 14,154 people in Washington filed for unemployment insurance through the Employment Security Department.
Some Jefferson County landlords are re-evaluating and asking themselves, “How much of my income will I be able to go without to help my tenants?”
Deputy Mayor David Faber called on landlords at the March 16 Port Townsend City Council meeting to consider suspending rent for April—or at the very least, lowering it to cover costs so the burden is shared.
Dave Garrett, who owns the Salmon Business Park in Port Hadlock, said before the governor ordered a complete shutdown of all non-essential businesses, 30% of his tenants had to shut their doors.
He said in response to help his tenants, he will to suspend rent payments for the month of April. He said he’s lucky he owns his property outright and doesn’t have to make mortgage payments like others. If he was still making payments, he said he could still afford to do it, but it would be harder.
“I can take a one-month hit pretty easily; two months I don’t know,” Garrett said. “I want to help them out; I don’t want to lose them. They have to eat too.”
But the uncertainty of how long statewide closures will be in place is the problem. The restaurant closure order is supposed to last to March 31, but an extension seems likely after Inslee announced Monday night a stay-at-home order for the entire state to last two weeks starting Wednesday, March 25.
Donna Murphy Doney, owner of Townsend Bay Property Management, said out of the about 300 property owners with whom she works, three or four have approached her about reducing or eliminating rent payments in April for commercial and residential properties. Another five to 10 are concerned and considering it.
She said people need to understand the owners are also in a tight situation, as they still have expenses such as insurance and mortgages.
“The expenses continue,” Murphy Doney said. “The banks aren’t stopping collecting.”
Garrett said he hopes once everything is back to normal, the government will respond through tax relief for him and affected businesses.
“This has never really happened before, so no one knows what is going to happen, but the government needs to step up and provide tax forgiveness,” he said.
Kris Nelson, who owns several Port Townsend restaurants and commercial properties, including the Bartlett Building and the building that houses the Fountain Cafe, said that for her, reducing rent to half-price for her tenants was a no-brainer and she hopes to see more landlords following suit.
“I have a responsibility to my tenants, and if I could give them free rent altogether I would,” Nelson said.
She said most commercial landlords who have seen their tenants’ businesses shut down are considering some sort of relief, but she said she hopes residential landlords will realize their tenants are out of work and need help, too.
“Everyone could choose to do a little and I wish they would,” she said.
Before Inslee’s Monday night order to close non-essential businesses, Nelson said most businesses were already closed because not only were there barely any customers but because they were forced to balance the responsibility of public health against their need to make sales.
While the state stay-at-home order still allows takeout businesses to continue operation, Nelson said she’s doing everything to keep her workers busy and employed with side projects and take-out, but that it isn’t sustainable in the long term.
“It’s easy to do for two weeks, but six?” Nelson said. “When you are making no money it’s just not sustainable.”