City Announces $22.7 Million in New Rental and Utility Assistance

Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program Will Provide a Surge of Relief to Community-Based Organizations, United Way of King County, and the City to Help Seattle Renters Withstand Ongoing Threats to Housing Stability 

Newly Signed American Rescue Plan Will Provide Additional Funding for Rental Assistance 

Seattle (March 12, 2021) – In addition to rental assistance funded through the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Biden yesterday, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan transmitted legislation to City Council to provide $22.7 million in Federal rental and utility assistance to support low-income families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This Federal aid was approved by the US Congress in late 2020 and released by the U.S. Treasury in 2021. City Council is expected to consider the legislation starting the week of March 16. Additional rental assistance allocations to cities, counties, and states will be determined in the coming days through the American Rescue Plan.  

“As the first major City impacted by COVID-19, we urgently stood up resources to support our most vulnerable residents. From an eviction moratorium on residential and commercial business evictions, to deferring utility payments, to providing funds to workers and businesses most impacted, Seattle has been a leader in COVID-19 response,” said Mayor Durkan. “Our programs drew national attention because of our ability to protect our low-income renters, including direct assistance to our affordable housing partners. While this is a significant investment, there is still more work to do in the coming weeks as we receive additional federal resources from the American Rescue Plan.”  

The legislation proposes the following funding allocation: 

  • $8.0 million to the United Way of King County to provide rental assistance;  
  • $7.0 million to provide rental assistance on behalf of tenants residing in publicly-subsidized rent and income-restricted affordable housing;  
  • $6.2 million to community-based organizations to target rental assistance for BIPOC communities; and 
  • $1.5 million to provide emergency utility assistance to income qualified renters through Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities programs. 

An estimated 13,000 low-income households in Seattle are behind on rent with typical arrears of one-and-a-half to three months ($3,000 to $5,000). As of December 2020, the unemployment rate in King County doubled from the year before to 6.8 percent, with communities of color experiencing disproportionate health and economic impacts of this pandemic.  

“The fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the most unequal economic recession in history, hitting our low-income families the hardest. In District 5, our foodbanks, churches, and non-profits are reporting unprecedented need just for the basic necessities: food, water, and shelter. This federal assistance is of immeasurable value for thousands of laid-off workers and their families,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez. 

Additionally, the City will continue to address another area contributing to housing cost burden, utility expenses. Since March 2020, the City has suspended utility disconnects for non-payment, and is waiving late and interest fees; however, expenses continue to accrue. In 2020, the City implemented a fast-track process to quickly enroll households into the Utility Discount Program, which helped more than 13,000  households get the assistance they urgently needed, and bringing the total number of households accessing the program to more than 40,000. 

“While Seattle is already a national leader assisting vulnerable residents with our Utility Discount Program (UDP), the COVID pandemic calls for more action and this new relief package delivers,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen, Chair of the Council’s Transportation & Utilities Committee.  “Everybody needs to pay utility bills, so we need to do everything we can to keep those regressive rates low for low income neighbors, especially as Seattle strives to achieve an equitable economic recovery.” 

Income-eligible customers can apply to the Utility Discount Program and receive a 60% discount on Seattle City Light electricity bills and a 50% discount on Seattle Public Utilities water/sewer/garbage bills. Customers can check for eligibility and apply here check for eligibility and apply here or call 206-684-0268. Payment plans can be arranged by submitting payment plan requests online to Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities

For rental assistance, Mayor Durkan’s funding approach builds on successes accomplished through the City of Seattle’s emergency rental assistance funding made available in 2020.  

First, the City will continue its successful partnership with United Way of King County to ensure a steady flow of funds through an established channel. Rental assistance funds can be used for both current missed payments and to cover rent arrearages from prior missed payments. 

“In 2020, available funding for our expanded Home Base eviction protection program was oversubscribed within days of creation,” says Gordon McHenry, Jr., President and CEO of United Way of King County. “New funding will provide immediate aid to renters whose housing stability is threatened by this ongoing public health crisis.  While the statewide eviction moratorium has offered essential short-term protections, most renters will ultimately need to pay both current and back rent to ensure long-term housing stability. We are committed to helping our neighbors meet that need.”  

Second, funds directed to rent-paying tenants of publicly subsidized housing ensures that ongoing operations of those units are unaffected by missed rent payments.  

“Over three-quarters of our residents who accessed City rental assistance in 2020 identified as Asian-Pacific Islander, Black, or as members of the Latinx community. Dedicating rental assistance to residents of buildings like our Hirabayashi Place is an important tool for expediting relief to those who have been most harmed by the pandemic,” said Pradeepta Upadhyay, Executive Director, Interim Community Development Association.  

Data from 2020 underscore the point: of the 1,773 residents of subsidized housing receiving rental assistance, 45% of the households that disclosed their race or ethnicity had a Black head of household; an additional 20% of households identified as another non-White race or ethnicity.  

And third, to further ensure equitable outcomes, the proposed plan expands on existing partnerships with community-based organizations. Regarding the $6.2 million in funding proposed for direct allocation to community-based organizations, Emily Alvarado, director of the Seattle Office of Housing, affirms that “direct funding to agencies rooted in communities of color and led by their members ensure that aid can be delivered not only efficiently, but also in a way that prioritizes cultural competence, language access, and strategies to confront the reality of structural and institutional inequities.”  

For more information on the United Way of King County’s Home Base Program:  https://www.uwkc.org/fighting-homelessness/home-base/ 

For more information on the City of Seattle’s Utility Discount Program:  www.seattle.gov/udp 

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