Puget Sound homeless shelters expand, landlords challenge eviction moratorium

More than 200 shelter beds are ready to bring people out of the cold and into safety in the city of Seattle. The Salvation Army will run the new shelter unveiled in SoDo on Friday.

The city of Seattle and King County collaborated to set up the enhanced shelter when officials said it is designed to move people from the street into more permanent housing quickly. Yet, the sheer number of people experiencing homelessness are only expected to grow. An eviction moratorium has already been extended, but when it lifts many renters worry where they will go without the protection.

“If you lose one day you lose rent,” said Alysha Wilson.

She and her husband Willie Petersen have been struggling since the summer. Unemployment payments helped after losing their jobs but a slow market has dragged on. Months later they would learn even more bad news. Willie's daughter, 15-year-old September, is now in a Tacoma hospital after being diagnosed with stage 3 cancer.

“Us not having jobs and this happens, it feels like there’s no end to it,” said Willie Petersen. “Doctors say treatment will take 36 months.”

Months and unexpected bills the family say they cannot afford, but except for the eviction moratorium, the family believes they would be on the street by now.

“Really, what we’re doing is just kicking the can down the road,” said property owner Enrique Jevons.

Jevons says while the moratorium gives renters some breathing room he feels like he is running out of breath. He joined a suit filed by the Washington Business Properties Association that is challenging the moratorium, claiming without relief both renters and property owners will suffer.

“Who is going to want to buy a property with a tenant who is not paying rent?” said Jevons.

This week, the Low Income Housing Institute opened a new tiny home village in Tacoma that can house 60. In the North Sound, empty commercial space is being considered by the city of Everett and county government for renovations to accommodate expanded homeless shelter capacity. Officials at SoDo’s shelter unveiling agreed the homeless population would only rise soon.

“We have every reason to believe that we’ll have more as a result of these combined crises,” said Leo Flor with King County.

Willie’s focus has turned to his daughter’s cancer and have asked for donations to pay for expenses. He also worries his family may be on the street before long.

“We thought everything was going well,” he said. “Now our plate is full.”

Governor Jay Inslee’s office shared the following statement with Q13 News in response to the legal challenge:

COVID-19 has hit Washington hard, particularly among the most vulnerable. The governor believes the emergency actions he has taken during the pandemic are valid and necessary, including measures to protect from homelessness financially insecure individuals teetering on homelessness.