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Study Shows Human Cost Of Eviction In Seattle

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Last year, there were four suicides among 1,473 tenants who were evicted from their home in Seattle.  That's just one statistic included in a study of eviction in the city in 2017. The Seattle Women's Commission and the Housing Justice Project prepared the report using court records, medical examiner data and renter surveys.

The report "Losing Home: The Human Cost of Eviction in Seattle" compiled data on demographics, reasons for evictions and financial costs.  It shows a disproportionate numbers of people of color being evicted, women being evicted over smaller amounts of money owed than men and, by and large, people ending up homeless after an eviction.

Edmund Witter is an attorney  with the Housing Justice Project, a program of the King County Bar Association that provides legal services to tenants facing eviction. He says, despite recent protections passed on behalf of tenants in Seattle, it’s still pretty easy to evict someone after just a few weeks. And he says compared with other cities like New York, that isn't very much time.

“If you’re a month behind on the rent, in New York you’re probably not going to get evicted provided you’re showing up for your court dates and making efforts to pay it back, but what we see in the data in Seattle is that people were getting evicted for as little as $10, $15, $20," Witter said.

In King County, before someone is evicted they are served notice that they have three days to either pay the rent or move. 

But, Witter says, once those three days are up and the  eviction procedure begins, the landlord doesn't have to accept payment. He says there are cases where a tenant come ups with the full payment, but gets evicted anyway because they weren't within the three day window. And, court fees can be added to any back rent owed.

"There were tenants who were evicted over about $49 and had an extra $1,300 of legal fees piled onto the amount they owed the landlord and so that will be a judgement of $49 and whatever legal fees the landlord adds and that,  frankly, it's going to haunt that tenant," Witter said.

An eviction and judgement on your credit report can make it difficult to get another place to rent. 

Among the recommendations of the report are a system for helping people facing eviction that would include coordinated legal and social services.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.