VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Clark County is working to keep countless people in their homes as federal and state moratoriums on residential evictions near an end.
Low-income housing experts predict millions of Americans will be at risk of eviction this winter when the federal halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent — put in place in September — ends on Dec. 31. Washington State’s eviction moratorium also ends the same day.
Concerns about the possible toll a large number of evictions could take on communities and courts after the moratoriums are lifted prompted Clark County Superior Court to adopt the Eviction Resolution Program.
Clark County is one of six counties in Washington to participate in the program: Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane and Thurston counties account for most of the state’s eviction cases. The pilot programs will be funded by money from the federal CARES Act.
“It was developed by people higher up in the state and the question put to us was does Clark County want to participate,” said Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson.
The goal of the program is for landlords and tenants to come to an agreement before the issue of unpaid rent reaches the court. Tenants are paired with attorneys and each case is assigned a professional mediator to help work out an agreement in a timely manner. Resources include access to state and local rent assistance and realistic payment plans
“We insisted that if we were going to support this program, we couldn’t have landlords waiting months and months to get in to do a mediation,” Gregerson said. “We set a benchmark or performance to try and get them in within two weeks.”
The pandemic has led to surges in unemployment rates, which in turn has left many tenants unable to pay rent. But, as Gregerson explained, landlords still have to pay overhead costs like property taxes, mortgages and insurance.
Gregerson said ERP will hopefully not only minimize court disputes, but also bring some hope to people in the midst of this crisis.
“I think every conscientious government servant is trying to look at our laws and our policies that are in place and trying to serve the public as best we can, managing some powerful competing interest and trying to get through this, what is hopefully a short-term crisis, and get us into the spring and summer when the vaccines have come online,” he said.
The Eviction Resolution Program also has some grant money available to renters who qualify. In counties where ERP has been adopted, landlords will be required to participate in the program before they can begin the legal eviction process.