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Coronavirus sparks U.S. West Coast calls to halt evictions

by Gregory Scruggs | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 14 March 2020 09:06 GMT

A lock secures a chain on the steel fence of a foreclosed home previously owned by U.S. Bancorp in Los Angeles, California July 17, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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West Coast cities are calling on lawmakers to help protect people from losing their homes during the COVID-19 outbreak

By Gregory Scruggs

SEATTLE, March 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Shortly after Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a ban this week on large gatherings in the Seattle area to stem the largest coronavirus outbreak in the United States, security guard Omar Kadmiri received the message he had been dreading.

His employer, which provides security to three performing arts venues, told him he would be out of work until at least April as all shows have been canceled.

The newly unemployed 25-year-old now faces a new challenge: making rent.

Out of the $1,500 he typically earns each month, $950 goes toward paying for a room in an apartment shared with two flatmates, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"My rent takes an overwhelming majority of my paycheck," he said. "There's no safety net."

In depth: Coronavirus and its impact on people, cities, and economy

As entertainment venues close suddenly, and bars, restaurants and cafes lose business due to the surge in remote working and social distancing, officials in high-rent West Coast cities are calling for a freeze on home evictions to help workers who share a similar plight.

The Washington area had more than 450 confirmed cases of the respiratory virus - which emerged in China's Hubei province late last year - as of Friday morning and 31 related deaths, as estimated by a national tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

On Wednesday, Seattle City council member Kshama Sawant issued an open letter urging Mayor Jenny Durkan to use emergency powers that were approved last week to declare an eviction moratorium.

"The coronavirus crisis is beginning to ravage our community," Sawant said. "We need the city to act urgently to prevent what could potentially be thousands of working families facing eviction, bankruptcy, or both."

Sawant's demand follows on the heels of Seattle's first-in-the-nation restriction on wintertime evictions, which expired March 1.

On Friday Mayor Durkan announced the city would issue a temporary moratorium on residential evictions to help residents cope with the impact of coronavirus.

"We cannot let individuals lose their homes or go hungry at this critical time," she said in a statement late on Friday.

Other measures include utility payment relief, small business recovery directives and expanded homeless shelter capacity, a spokeswoman for the mayor said in emailed comments.

The Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents over 5,100 landlords, issued recommendations on Tuesday for its members to hold off on issuing eviction notices for at least 30 days, waive late fees and work out payment plans with affected tenants.


Some cities have already made moves to stop people from losing their homes amid the outbreak.

The mayor of San Jose, California, Sam Liccardo, announced on March 6 that the city intends to pass a temporary eviction moratorium for renters whose wages suffer due to coronavirus.

The city council is expected to draft and approve the measure in the coming weeks.

In San Francisco, which last month declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, district supervisor Dean Preston is expected to introduce a similar eviction freeze this week.

Meanwhile, the city's largest landlord, Veritas Investments, said on its website it was voluntarily pausing evictions until the city's state of emergency is lifted.

And an online petition demanding Oregon declare an eviction moratorium has gathered more than 2,300 signatures so far.

If a moratorium on evictions were approved in Seattle, said Kadmiri, the security guard, "that would alleviate a lot of stress".

After receiving his pink slip, Kadmiri discovered he is eligible for $300 per week in unemployment benefits. After paying for his room, that leaves him with $250 each month to pay for utility bills, groceries and other necessities.

"I don't like waking up every day trying to figure out how to pay rent," he said. (Reporting by Gregory Scruggs, Editing by Jumana Farouky and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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