An opinion piece by Jeremie Dufault, a member of the Washington State House of Representatives on why rent vouchers are better for tenants and landlords.
Government shouldn’t be able to give away something it doesn’t own. But that’s what happened when Gov. Jay Inslee stopped property owners from evicting nonpaying tenants. He took something of value from the landlords and gave it to the tenants.
Who should pay for this new social policy?
Right now, the governor is forcing property owners to foot the bill, but is that fair, or even legal? Shouldn’t social policy be funded through taxes? Especially during short-term emergencies? After all, government doesn’t force grocery stores to give away food or day-care facilities to give away child care — also necessary parts of everyday life. Instead, it provides prepaid vouchers for those services to the people who need help.
Why doesn’t the state do the same thing for tenants who — through no fault of their own — have been financially affected by COVID-19? Why doesn’t the government give them rent vouchers?
The governor and legislature need to either do this or otherwise craft a plan that reimburses property owners who are serving the public good by housing nonpaying tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the smart and moral thing to do.
Rent vouchers keep tenants from falling behind in rent
Rent vouchers not only keep tenants from falling behind on their payments but they provide property owners the income they need to pay their mortgages and other bills. An eviction moratorium does neither.
A word about rental-property owners. Did you know that most of them own just a handful of units? Or maybe just one? And that most single-family rentals are long-term retirement investments that take years to produce a nickel of profit? That may not be true in much of urban Washington, but it is definitely true throughout the rest of the state, including in the Yakima Valley, where I live.
Another consideration: Both the federal and state constitutions prohibit government from interfering with private contracts and taking property away from citizens without compensation. The eviction moratorium ignores both of those prohibitions and leaves our state open to expensive litigation down the road.
The governor and the Democrat majority of both houses of the legislature have shown they care more about tenants than property owners — a bias made obvious over the last two sessions as they enacted an assortment of laws that made it harder to collect rent from and evict nonpaying tenants.
But this is different. This is not a tenant-versus-landlord issue. It is about fairness. Should the governor be allowed to use the emergency powers given to him during a pandemic to require private businesses to provide a service for free?
The answer is clearly no.
State government needs to provide extraordinary services during these extraordinary times. But it needs to do so legally and fairly.
Contact your legislators and encourage them to work on a bipartisan basis to create a rental-voucher program for people affected by COVID-19. And ask them to vote to end the eviction moratorium that is bankrupting property owners and burying tenants under a mound of debt.
About the author:
Jeremie Dufault is a Republican member of the Washington State House of Representatives, representing eastern Yakima County (15th District).