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Eviction moratorium extension and other Bellingham resources help student tenants with rental assistance

“Now Leasing†sign hangs out front of WWU Living apartments on Jan. 26, 2021 in Bellingham, Wash. Leasing availability is much higher since the beginning of the pandemic and signs are scattered all around Off Campus Living sites. // Photo by Hannah Cross

By Hannah Cross

Living on your own as a college student can be stressful. On top of attending school, many students have to work full-time to pay for basic needs such as rent, food or utilities.

Adding a pandemic and unemployment to the mix has forced many students to make tough choices surrounding their housing options, making knowledge about Bellingham’s community resources for student tenants more important than ever before.

Western Washington University’s Off Campus Living Program Manager, Julia Burns, said she has spoken to numerous students who still can’t pay rent because they, or their parents, lost their jobs.

The extension of Gov. Jay Inslee’s eviction moratorium until March 31, 2021, allows for the continued support and extended provisions for landlords and property owners to help their tenants, especially student tenants, with rental assistance through federal funding. 

“It has been a real blessing for students to have the eviction moratorium in place — they could be in real trouble without it,” Burns said.

However, the rental assistance provided through the eviction moratorium, while a blessing for many, is only temporary, Burns said. “Some students think that they don’t have to pay rent at all, and while they currently don’t, once the eviction moratorium is lifted there is nothing stopping landlords from requesting that money,” she said.

Burns explained that if students need further assistance understanding their rights as renters or access to other tenant resources they are welcome to contact Western’s Off Campus Living and she will provide students with the necessary support. 

Violet Lavatai, executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State, said the resources available for tenants across the state look different depending on your county.

If passed, Whatcom County tenants will benefit from the Biden administration’s attempt to push a trillion-dollar package for continued rental support and assistance outside of the eviction moratorium deadline, Lavatai said.

If student tenants need further help understanding current measures and resources, Lavatai said they can contact the TU Tenants Rights Hotline, which can be found on the Bellingham Tenants Union website. This hotline is a free resource that educates on current landlord-tenant laws and discusses preventive housing loss strategies. 

Former Western student Maia Wood described her transfer from Western to Whatcom Community College as one that never would have happened if the pandemic hadn’t taken place.

“Last year when COVID-19 hit, I was living at Lark, which is very corporate. They didn’t let anyone out of their lease to go home unless they paid a fee and found a replacement to take over the remainder of the lease,” Wood said.

Lark was contacted but would not comment on the matter.

Wood said her and her roommates did not feel valued or heard during a time already full of anxiety and uncertainty. After many attempts to get in contact with their landlord to explain their situation, Wood said she was told to file for unemployment. 

“We weren’t given any other resources, so we had to look on our own. We decided to move and had to put an ad up on Craig’s List and Facebook, which took a while, but we finally found replacements and were able to move to a new apartment under Hammer Properties Management,” she said.

Wood said that in her experience so far, Hammer Properties has been very understanding of the student perspective and has given students access to tenant and food bank resources to help them stay afloat. “Students should definitely take advantage of these Whatcom County tenant resources. They can help students in a wide range of situations,” she said.

Hammer Properties Agent Nikki Quinn shared her perspective on the eviction moratorium by acknowledging that “everyone has had their life turned upside down and we don’t want our tenants to be scared.”

Quinn urged student tenants to communicate to their landlords about their situation. 

“Everyone is hurting. If you need help it doesn’t matter why, but we can’t help you as student tenants if we don’t know what you need help with,” she said. “If you need resources there is no stigma, you should use them, and that’s where we can help.”

So what other local resources are available for Bellingham students who might need rental assistance outside of the eviction moratorium?

Northwest Youth Services is a nonprofit organization located in Bellingham that supports young people ages 13-24 experiencing homelessness in both Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Quinn said student tenants are connected with this resource because it provides help with rental assistance, access to affordable housing, connections to mental health services, support for LGBTQ youth and much more.

“Northwest Youth Services has provided several of our student tenants with three months of rent paid,” said Quinn. “And that is just paid for them, it isn’t like the moratorium, which requires a payment plan after it is lifted so students have greatly benefited from that resource.”

Quinn said Hammer Properties also connects their tenants with Bellingham food bank options like the drive-up food bank located on Ellis Street, which serves 20% of the city on a regular basis, 50% of whom are kids or senior citizens. Quinn also said students have found this food bank to be a great option for meals on a budget as it gives them access to healthier food options.

For access to these resources, students can call the Western Off Campus Living Center or communicate with their landlords about their situation so that they can help connect them. 

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