Let Olympia renters pay move-in costs over time, group says

Emily Evans and her partner live in a west Olympia apartment complex for tenants up to a certain income. In February, Evans was laid off from her job; in March, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and needed three months to recover from surgery, during which time the couple depleted their savings.

Last week, she accepted a job offer that will put her over her apartment’s income limit and now is preparing to move.

“How am I supposed to come up with $2,800 for move-in fees in one month while still paying my bills and feeding us?” she asked, speaking at Tuesday’s Olympia City Council meeting. “This can happen to anybody and my story isn’t the worst I’ve heard.”

Evans was among a few dozen people who rallied outside City Hall ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. Inside, renters talked about challenges they faced in finding and staying in their homes amid rising rents and high move-in costs.

“The price of rent is only one obstacle to housing,” Sarah Stockholm, an Olympia renter and organizer with Washington Community Action Network, told the council.

The group is proposing an ordinance that would require landlords let renters pay move-in costs in installments — including security deposits, last month’s rent and other fees — and would cap deposits and fees based on monthly rent.

Stockholm said Washington CAN was involved in promoting similar measures in Seattle, Tacoma and Burien.

Olympia is the only majority renter city in Thurston County. Half the city’s renters pay more than 30 percent of household income for housing, according to a recent report from Apartment List, while eviction is a leading cause of homelessness in Thurston County, according to this year’s homeless census.

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The City Council’s land use committee has been considering a series of renter protection proposals, including installment payments, while another committee is looking at starting a tenant relocation assistance fund to help people forced to move.

Council members Tuesday said they wanted to move faster on some of those measures and will consider Washington CAN’s proposal.

Council member Jim Cooper said while the city has recently been focused on responding to homelessness, that crisis is fueled by an “unhealthy housing market.”

“This is not a drug and alcohol problem, this is not a mental illness problem. This is a money problem,” he said.

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Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.