A Seattle tenant’s struggle to pay rent

Crosscut is collecting stories from the pandemic about eviction, rental debt and homelessness. Share yours.

an apartment complex, with downtown towering behind it

Crosscut is collecting stories about eviction, rental debt, and other struggles related to housing and homelessness. (Matt Mills McKnight/Crosscut)

Earlier this week, Seattle extended its moratorium on residential, small business and nonprofit evictions through the end of June. Meanwhile, a statewide ban on evictions currently in place could be lifted March 31, raising questions for tenants and landlords outside the state's largest city. Many observers are asking: What happens after the moratorium ends? For Colton Kenyon, a renter in the Seattle neighborhood of South Lake Union who shares his story below, the threat of eviction looms. Surely he is not alone. 

For the next few months, Crosscut will be collecting stories from renters, landlords, homeowners and advocates to help paint a picture of this highly uncertain landscape. If you would like to share your story, or someone else's, please use the form at the end of this page, and we may feature it in a future post.

—Mason Bryan, associate opinion editor
 


When COVID-19 shut down the restaurant industry last March, I had just finished recovering from major surgery. I work as a bartender. Suddenly, I didn’t have a job to come back to.

I live in the South Lake Union neighborhood, where my rent is about $1,500 a month, including utilities. At first, thanks to enhanced unemployment benefits, I was able to pay in full. But when Congress did not extend those benefits last summer, I quickly fell behind.

I have a lot of autoimmune diseases, like Crohn's colitis and IBS. That puts me at high risk for COVID-19, so I couldn’t start working again even when restaurants and bars were partly open. It’s not safe for me to be out in public right now. I also have extra expenses related to my health problems, like being very careful about my diet. I can’t just eat Top Ramen. As I struggled to make ends meet, my rental debt kept piling up.

I did everything I could think of to get caught up. I called 211 and a few churches, and I was able to scrape together a few dollars here and there, but not nearly enough. Then I applied for a rental assistance lottery through King County. My name was selected, along with another tenant in my building. But our corporate landlord dismissed the help, because the program required the landlord to forgive a small percentage of our rental debt. Luckily, in December, I found another non-profit that helped me pay the full balance, which by then was almost $5,000.

I started 2021 with a clean slate, but on $303-a-week unemployment, my rental debt has started racking up again.

My lease ends in June. I had a talk with the regional property manager, and she said they are not going to renew my lease due to inconsistent payment of rent. I tried to explain that my total monthly income is less than my rent, and that I’m already having to ask my family for help with day-to-day bills. She said that once the moratorium is up, she will call the sheriff and they will pack my stuff in bags and throw me out. Then, she said, it will be hard to find anyone to rent to me for seven years.

I feel baffled and confused that no one has my back right now. I’ve never butted heads with a landlord like this. People like me and people who aren’t sick are stuck in this impossible situation. It is not our fault that we have to stay home during a pandemic. I probably won’t be able to work again until August or September, whenever bars and restaurants fully open up again. I should not have to fear losing the roof over my head. I have two cats. I don’t want them to be on the street, and I don’t want to be on the street.

In the middle of a public health emergency, landlords should not be able to dictate if we are allowed to renew our lease or not. We need the security of knowing that landlords can’t bully us. We need our local government to stand up for us.



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