Eviction Crisis Compounds Homelessness Emergency, Expert Warns

Expert warns eviction crisis compounds homelessness emergency in WA, calls for rental aid, rent stabilization, and support services to keep tenants housed.

Eviction Crisis Compounds Homelessness Emergency, Expert Warns

As Washington state grapples with record homelessness, the eviction crisis is exacerbating an already dire situation, according to Edmund Witter, Senior Managing Attorney at the King County Bar Association's Housing Justice Project. In an interview with Hacks & Wonks, Witter called for urgent action to prevent evictions and keep vulnerable residents housed.

"I worry that the direction of the rhetoric is - let's just speed up the evictions, let's make our most vulnerable unhoused as soon as we can and make them somebody else's problem, make them suffer out on the streets in an unsheltered manner and not get them support," Witter cautioned. "We're really losing some values and humanity in how we're viewing this."

Witter explained that most eviction cases his organization handles involve small amounts of back rent, usually a month or less, often caused by job loss, medical issues, or other temporary setbacks. He said very few tenants have the resources to recover once an eviction is filed.

"We don't know how many cases are started or how many tenants fall behind on the rent because there's no real data on that. But what we do know is that there are a high number of filings these days," Witter noted. "A lot of tenants don't even make it to court...most tenants don't even know how to respond to the summons when they get it. And so the result is if you don't respond or do the things that you're required to do under law to be able to recognize the lawsuit, you just automatically lose and you lose your housing."

The consequences of eviction are severe, Witter emphasized, with many tenants unable to secure new housing and ending up in shelters or on the streets. Crystal Fincher, host of the Hacks & Wonks podcast, said this is fueling the homelessness crisis while creating "more expensive problems for ourselves."

To address the issue, Witter called for swift action to provide rental assistance to tenants facing short-term financial hardship. "90% of these cases are about rent - and oftentimes not about a lot of rent," he said. "One of the things that really prevented a lot of evictions during the moratorium or during the pandemic...was there was just a very robust rental assistance program. And that was funded by federal funds, but those have pretty much dried out at this point."

Additionally, Witter advocated for policies to prevent huge rent increases that tenants cannot absorb. "Representative Alvarado's rent stabilization bill from last session, I think was pretty critical in trying to stem what is something we tend to see a lot of, which is high rent increases," he said. "When we've surveyed our clients who are facing eviction, the average rent increase that they're seeing is between $250 to $300 - that tends to be about a 15 to 20%...And we've seen them as high as $2,000 to $3,000."

Witter also emphasized the need to strengthen behavioral health services and other support systems to help vulnerable tenants remain stably housed. Without urgent and decisive action, he warned, the cruel cycle of eviction and homelessness will only accelerate.

"A lot of evictions are preventable…This is a social crisis that unfortunately goes through the legal process. And I think we tend to look at it only as a legal process, unfortunately. And I think it's something that is definitely in need of just more attention and support."

About the Guest

Edmund Witter

Edmund Witter is the Senior Managing Attorney at the King County Bar Association Housing Justice Project, which provides legal representation to tenants throughout Washington State and works on tenants rights at the federal, state, and local levels. He has held that position since 2017. Prior to that, he was a Supervising Attorney in the Housing Division of the Legal Aid Society of New York City. 

Find Edmund Witter and the King County Bar Association on Twitter/X at @kingcountybar.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Today, I'm very excited to have Edmund Witter, Senior Managing Attorney at the King County Bar Association Housing Justice Project, joining me to discuss the critical issue of evictions and housing stability. In recent years, with skyrocketing housing costs and the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, more of our neighbors have been struggling to afford rent and are facing the threat of losing their homes. Evictions can have devastating consequences, pushing families into homelessness and perpetuating cycles of poverty. Yet at the same time, the eviction process itself is not well understood by many. I wanted to do this show to shed light on how evictions actually work, the typical circumstances that lead to an eviction filing, and what policies could help keep more people stably housed. Edmund and the Housing Justice Project are on the frontlines providing legal assistance to tenants facing eviction. His insights will help us understand the realities, challenges, and potential solutions around this issue that impacts the health and stability of our communities. Welcome, Edmund.

[00:01:58] Edmund Witter: Hi, thanks for having me.

[00:01:59] Crystal Fincher: So I just wanted to start out with learning what the Housing Justice Project does and what brought you to the work?

[00:02:07] Edmund Witter: The Housing Justice Project is a tenants' rights law firm. We're a nonprofit - we don't charge any of our clients. We work throughout the state of Washington, primarily in King County, Snohomish County, and Spokane. And we also handle a lot of appellate work for tenants who are facing eviction. Additionally, we worked on a lot of policy reforms over the last five, six years - a lot of the tenants' rights work that's happened at the State Legislature and locally has been work that we've worked on, along with a coalition of other partners. So our primary thing is we work with tenants who are at risk of losing their housing, at risk of homelessness, and ultimately help them try to stay housed the best we can. I've been doing this for about seven years - I've been overseeing this program. And prior to that, I worked in the Bronx working on housing issues as well in that area.

[00:02:54] Crystal Fincher: Excellent. So the landscape has been changing when it comes to evictions in Washington state. We saw a number of cities institute eviction moratoriums during the pandemic - I mean, COVID is still here - but they were taking steps to mitigate that from a government perspective. And that seemed to help a lot of people stay in their homes. Those have since expired - I think, all of them. We have seen a number of initiatives across the state where residents and cities have voted to strengthen protections for tenants, including those protecting against eviction. Overall, where do we stand when it comes to the processes to evict people across the state? How simple or hard is that to do?

[00:03:45] Edmund Witter: That's a good question. Something to know about evictions is - up until about five years ago, it hadn't really changed much in about a century, or really since Washington had started. Until 2019, when you were a renter and you were short on your rent, you had three days to come up with that rent. And if you were a day late, dollars short - you were pretty much done for. So we would see cases potentially where the tenant had all the money and they came up with it a little bit later, and they were begging to be able to stay - and it was entirely up to the landlord about whether they would accept it or not. And we would see plenty of tragic cases where the tenant had one issue - a medical emergency, loss in the family - and they were losing their home. We would see evictions as low as $2. We had a $10 case. We're still seeing those cases, frankly. I just had one recently that was $25. And so we're seeing these evictions for small amounts of money and I think it's pretty well-known about how disruptive that is - it's very intuitively obvious, but having an eviction definitely causes a downward spiral. Around 2019, the Legislature in the state of Washington started to look at this a little bit more closely - something we pushed really heavily - trying to make it so that a tenant could actually try to repair a delinquency with more time than three days, giving more ability for judges to use discretion to be able to stop an eviction.

And I think it's important to really give a comparison to homeownership. If you're a homeowner and you fall behind on your mortgage in the state of Washington, a foreclosure - or really what it's called is a deed of trust sale - cannot happen legally until 190 days. That is, you have at least an ability to cure it up to that period. In comparison as renters, we're looking at - well, it used to be 3 days and now it's 14 days, in some cases 30 days due to a federal law change. But things have started to really change over that time period. And the Legislature took really the right steps to start looking at this a little bit more closely, and so there were some reforms that were happening before COVID. COVID set up a number of other changes, including a just cause law, which means your landlord needs to have a reason to evict you - as opposed to just not liking your hairdo, for example, and wanting you out. And then additionally, the right to counsel, which is if you're a low-income tenant, which pretty much everybody is who's facing eviction, you're entitled to an attorney. And that's a huge sea change. We're one of those main practitioners. We are the sole practitioner in King County who provides that service for low-income tenants who are facing eviction. And it's been ultimately a huge change. That said, even with all these reforms and with all the changes, we are - like everywhere across the country - seeing record numbers of evictions. And there's a lot of reasons why that's happening - we definitely should talk more about that. But Washington, like pretty much every state across the country right now, is seeing record evictions and that's what I think is causing a lot of crises at this point.

[00:06:39] Crystal Fincher: You talked about a lot of the people who you work with are typically low-income renters. What are the types of situations that you see that are typical leading to eviction? Are they people who just don't feel like paying and are trying to get over on their landlord? Are there people who are just experiencing some temporary disruptions? What do you typically see?

[00:07:03] Edmund Witter: We did a report some years ago on this - surveying our clients - and what we found is about more than half the time, the reason why the person fell behind was temporary unemployment. Other major reasons were loss in the family and medical emergency. The one that we're probably seeing more of recently is just high housing cost is what's contributing to it. And it's both in the affordable and private markets right now. Affordable housing is increasingly unaffordable in the area due to the way that those programs are structured and how the rents are set - which is essentially if your neighbors are getting wealthier, even if your income is the same, your rent will probably go up and it's not based off of your actual individual income. The real thing that seems to be driving it is - it's the things that affect life. And most people, especially in poverty, don't have the savings, don't have the safety net, don't have extended family to be able to help them. And so those are the typical things - loss of job, failure to find child care, which is a really common one that we see lately, is just child care expenses. But then also just rents going up and being unaffordable, especially for those on fixed incomes, whether they're retired or have a disability that prevents them from working. And they don't have that ability to be able to catch up in the event that there's a slip or if just the rents are too high for them.

[00:08:21] Crystal Fincher: What is the process like for someone who is served with an eviction notice? What happens from there - what happens in court for both them and the landlord? What does that look like?

[00:08:33] Edmund Witter: One thing to know about the eviction process is it's very fast, generally speaking. There's one issue that's happening in King County, which is the court has gotten backed up due to a large number of cases and some other reasons. But generally, the eviction process is fast. It's fast pretty much across the country. And so when you fall behind, you're given a notice - demand to pay rents or to get out. And then that usually leads to a summons, which has a very quick turnaround, and then a court date. Most people don't make it that far - we don't know how many cases are started or how many tenants fall behind on the rent because there's no real data on that. But what we do know is that there are a high number of filings these days - there's actually probably a record number of filings that were higher than we've had in the last 20 years, even before the recession of 2007-2008. And on top of that, a lot of tenants don't even make it to court. Between about 40% - almost sometimes at half, depending on what month you're looking at - most tenants don't even know how to respond to the summons when they get it. And so the result is if you don't respond or do the things that you're required to do under law to be able to recognize the lawsuit, you just automatically lose and you lose your housing.

We hear from a number of tenants who were referred actually by the sheriff. So they get the notice from the sheriff - being told that they're going to lose their housing in three days. And the sheriff says - Well, why don't you call Housing Justice Project? And that's where we usually help them and we see if we can do anything at that point. But I've seen some stories - one anecdote that recently I heard from actually a sheriff, it was not from a tenant that we heard from - but the sheriffs, when they go out and do these evictions, they see quite a bit. And they had one tenant recently, who they described as elderly - went in, they saw all the paperwork stacked up, the tenant was mostly not lucid and had a home health aide who just didn't understand the paperwork themselves. And so there's a lot of people who end up falling through the cracks that way - who don't really maybe understand the process or they're dependent on other people who don't understand the process - end up losing their housing. And it's hard to know exactly what happens to a lot of those individuals, but what we do know from what we've seen from our clients is a lot of them don't find other housing. A number of them end up unsheltered, or they go into the shelter system, or they live with friends and family, which is often a temporary solution, and ultimately tends to lead into an unsheltered experience after that.

[00:10:51] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, this is happening against the backdrop of ever-increasing homelessness - just had the most recent Point-In-Time count released with another increase in the amount of unhoused people on our streets. And study after study shows that increase in housing prices is related to an increase in homelessness. And you talked about several other factors, but it just seems like we're creating more problems and more expensive problems for ourselves by allowing people to lose housing and wind up in shelters on the street in increasingly unstable situations. What can we do that will help?

[00:11:35] Edmund Witter: Yeah, that's the big question here. I would say 90% of these cases are about rent - and oftentimes not about a lot of rent. Most of the cases we see are usually started for about a month or less in rent. Sometimes by the time they're getting into an actual eviction, more will have accrued by then, but it tends to be not usually a very large amount of rent. And so one of the things that really prevented a lot of evictions during the moratorium or during the pandemic - and ultimately, I think even stopped them from happening when the moratorium was lifted - was there was just a very robust rental assistance program. And that was funded by federal funds, but those have pretty much dried out at this point. There are some local funding sources that are used, but generally it's pretty far between. And one big problem too we have is a lot of that funding that was being used to be able to help a lot of people is spread out pretty far and thin. And not for an entirely bad reason. Part of the reasoning was that you have a lot of different agencies - at the county, the city, and different government entities - work with to be able to reach different populations. But sometimes you can have very inconsistent experiences if you're somebody in crisis, depending on who you go to - their reliability, how much knowledge they have about how different systems work. And so I think there's been a lot of investment into building up a lot of the social services, but we actually still see a lot lacking in just terms of organizational ability to be able to meet and work with a lot of people. So the third one is the safety net is really not working very well at this point. And one of the big things is just providing that short-term monetary assistance in a consistent way is really critical to preventing a lot of those evictions.

Other things though do pop up and you hear it in different ways. Some landlords will talk about it either directly or indirectly, but behavioral health care is a big issue too. We see a lot of households where either it's the whole household themselves is recovering from maybe one member of the primary breadwinners' issues with mental health or other issues like a traumatic brain injury or something else that's ultimately causing the whole family to fall behind on rent or ultimately not be able to pay for what they need. Or it's contributing to other issues in the households, whether it's clutter - a excessive issue or hoarding, as it's often called - or behavior issues that involve either threats or safety issues to other tenants. And a lot of times there is a pretty clear mental health component accompanying a lot of those cases. And we see that intersectional issue of not really having good supports for those individuals who are going through a potential breakdown. And so I think there is this common question that we see in the criminal justice system and other programs is - how do we work with a lot of people who are struggling, who are suffering, who need more health, whether it's mental health, drug issues, or issues accompanying poverty or inability to be able to find work that's actually able to afford the rent. These are the big questions that come up, I think, in eviction here or eviction prevention in general, and ultimately in homelessness prevention overall.

[00:14:41] Crystal Fincher: Now we've seen - especially I would say over the past year - a lot of news coverage talking about landlord concerns, whether it's squatting in properties or landlords saying that it's really hard to evict people now - for a few different reasons - starting off when it comes to non-payment of rent, are there barriers for landlords to file and evict people from their property for not paying?

[00:15:10] Edmund Witter: When it comes to the non-payment issue, the common complaint I hear from landlords is how long it takes to get a court date these days in King County itself. Like I said, there's been an explosion in eviction filings across the country, and it's certainly not unique to Washington. And across Washington state, there is definitely a huge explosion - our Spokane office is seeing higher rates than we are seeing even in King County. But the King County Superior Court, where evictions are heard, has been so backed up, and there's a host of reasons why. But to get a court date, it's now taking months to do that. And in the days prior to the pandemic, it was pretty typical when we were at the end of the month, most of the people we were seeing who were getting evicted owed that current month's rent - that was all they owed. So a landlord was able to get in the court and potentially evict somebody between six to seven weeks. It's now taking substantially longer than that. And so during that time, a landlord's grievances are often - I'm not getting the rent or I'm losing money on that? Other concerns are coming up. And if it's a behavior issue, then they'll raise other issues like that. And so the King County Superior Court has been pretty backed up just because they've really struggled to be able to handle the number of filings. And so that's a true issue, it's a very real one. And it's one that I think the judiciary is trying to address, but I think is really struggling to be able to adapt to it. But ultimately, that's been the big problem here.

In terms of just other issues, I don't think there's really been a huge barrier in terms of preventing a landlord from being able to evict. Probably the biggest change that's happened is just that that tenant does have an attorney who is going to advise that tenant about what their rights are, is going to make sure that the landlord followed the proper procedure. The fact is - is I think prior to the right to counsel, there were just laws that were never even having to be adhered to by a lot of landlords. And there was a lot of sloppiness. We also had a judiciary that was pretty poorly educated about how to handle some of these cases and ultimately how to handle them properly and apply the law. And so I think a lot of the landlord complaints are mostly about the backlog in King County - there's no other counties that are having this problem. But it's ultimately causing a lot of this sort of - lack of a better word - anger. And I think maybe even misplaced anger towards tenant protections or tenant protection policies in general, including right to counsel.

[00:17:36] Crystal Fincher: So you mentioned the experience for landlords - it's taking longer in the courts for evictions for non-payment purposes. We've also heard in relation to what you talked about with some behavioral health or safety concerns, some concerns from landlords saying - Hey, we have people on premises or some tenants who are harassing or threatening others that we feel is a safety concern, that is also a concern for other tenants. What happens in that situation and what is the recourse? How do you balance the rights of the person in that situation versus the safety of their neighbors?

[00:18:13] Edmund Witter: The issue with evictions that involve behavior-related issues is, I think, pretty complicated. But ultimately, the thing to remember here is that these evictions are, at least by law, intended to be very fast. So if somebody's committing pretty dangerous behavior, it's really - the landlord gives you three days to get out. And if not, they can start an eviction and can have a hearing date within seven days if they really dot their I's, cross their T's, and everything's working right. That's still the law. That's what the law was before the pandemic. That's what the law was before right to counsel. That really hasn't changed for the most part - there are some little things here and there. But for the most part, a landlord still has access to a pretty speedy court proceeding, at least according to how the law is written. Now, the issue that's going on right now, as I said, is that King County Superior Court - again, it's just King County - has been so backed up that some of these hearings are just taking a lot longer at that point. The court themselves have indicated that they're going to try to bring in more judicial officers to hear these so that they're expedited. And our only concern with that is to make sure that the tenant's due process rights are still afforded, which is namely that they're given an attorney. The court is obligated to provide an attorney, and that's the only thing we've asked them to make sure that they are doing. The court has indicated they're going to do that - I have no idea when, I still haven't seen any written policy as to when they're doing that. But again, those evictions are still supposed to be going pretty fast - that's how they're supposed to be intended. The problem is that the court has just gotten so backed up and that's why you're hearing so much about it, I think, in media and other places.

But I do want to note just a couple things though about this, which is a lot of these cases in our experience are often - more to it than what the landlord is claiming. Sometimes it's just the facts don't add up, or the allegations are just not true. I think it's pretty accepted that in a criminal case that you're not guilty until proven so, and that's definitely the case here. I get a bit of an impression though from what we see here from a lot of landlords is they are very convinced they are right and then disappointed when the court finds otherwise. And there's a lot of sour grapes at that point, including lashing out at the idea that it was a technicality or something else that caused them to lose. And there certainly are sometimes procedural mishaps, but there's often hearings on the merits where the court, frankly, just does not find that there's a basis to evict someone. And some of those reasons too, though, can be just from the fact that somebody's, for example, disability or mental health condition in and of itself cannot be a basis to evict somebody if there's a possibility of getting them help. And so sometimes when we get these cases that involve somebody who is being accused of doing dangerous activity - that is most of the time due to a mental health issue from what we can tell, and the person's not in full control of their faculties or has full capacity - a lot of what we do is just try to be able to get them the help they need. And there are laws - both federal, state, and local - that permit that and that require a landlord to accommodate that. And that's ultimately what we are seeking to do - is mostly to both keep the person housed, make sure everyone's safe, and that's really the goal that we want. But there is a limit to that. And oftentimes that limit is the behavioral healthcare system. Does it actually have the supports there? Do we have the actual functioning systems? And to be able to provide that? And in any given year, in any given day, that may vary for any given person. And so I think the thing is, it's a very complicated thing. In our experience, there's a lot that can be done in these cases. It's a very fast process already in law, and I worry that the direction of the rhetoric is - let's just speed up the evictions, let's make our most vulnerable unhoused as soon as we can and make them somebody else's problem, make them suffer out on the streets in an unsheltered manner and not get them support. But I feel like what we're hearing - even from a lot of affordable housing providers, permanent supportive housing providers, those who are paid to provide this kind of support - is increasingly rhetoric that we don't want to deal with these kind of tenants. And I think we're really losing some values and humanity in how we're viewing this and not trying to find - is there a more holistic picture that we can provide? Is there something else we can do? And I think that's being missed in some of the media rhetoric that we are hearing, especially from some landlords.

[00:22:39] Crystal Fincher: Interesting you mentioned some of the affordable housing providers. Very recently, we saw a letter sent to a Seattle City Councilmember from Sharon Lee from the Low Income Housing Institute, which does have low-income tenants that they do rent to - asking for a change in policy and procedure, asking basically to exclude covering people with income who decide not to pay rent, asking for really a loosening of current standards to make it easier to evict people who are behind on rent. Is this justified? Is this necessary? Are you surprised to see this from someone like Sharon Lee from the Low Income Housing Institute?

[00:23:23] Edmund Witter: I guess I am surprised by, again, some of the rhetoric that is coming from some places. I could quibble with a little bit from what I've seen here and there in that letter and the accuracy of some of the information. But overall, I think it takes a very simplistic attitude about why people don't pay their rent and what's going on. The idea that somebody has income and isn't paying their rent is just - frankly, I think there's a lot of more factual development that would have to happen. For example, somebody might have income, but they just have sudden other expenses that they have to provide for, whether it's a family member or their own personal health or other things that are causing other issues. And I think we need to be pretty careful about how we try to start thinking about what is a good basis for somebody to not become homeless and what's a good basis for them to become homeless. Because this is a pretty nuanced issue - we're talking about people's shelter, a very basic need. And then to just start rattling off and trying to make it more punitive, or trying to find ways that we can speed that up, or rely on what seemed like very anecdotal information to try to change pretty critical laws to deal with probably the most important crisis we're dealing with - that is our homelessness and housing crisis in this area - I think it's just something that's a pretty dangerous path to go on. I've noticed that - from what I remember in the letter, I think it mentioned something like not being able to evict somebody who hasn't paid their rent for two and a half years - I think suggesting there is a rent moratorium, but there's been no moratorium for two and a half years. And so I just have to wonder what information is understood and what's actually going on here. Because a lot of what I tend to hear from a lot of landlords in their letters to policymakers - and sometimes what gets regurgitated by policymakers - is really deep fundamental misunderstandings of what evictions are, what the laws are, what they do and what they don't do. And ultimately, I don't see a really strong basis here to start revising these things without critical attention about what exactly is the issue - and that's not really clearly elucidated to me.

[00:25:27] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I was wondering that myself - as you said, it does talk about - We have tenants with income who have not paid rent for two and a half years, tying that to the moratorium. But as you said, the moratorium has not been in place for quite some time. And really, it seems like the source of the concern is their ability to secure financing and a lender bringing up - Hey, you have people who are behind on the rent. So it looks like they're trying to acquire a building to provide more housing, and it seems like there's some confusion there. It will be really interesting to see how that's responded to - that was directed to Seattle City Councilmember Moore - how that's responded to by Moore and the rhetoric that comes out of it. But that's interesting. I guess right now we are in a unique situation - one, in that we do elect judges here in Washington state. But being that we are seeing these challenges with backlogs in the court, and we do have judicial elections happening right now, is there anything that would be helpful as these candidates are going around and making their case to be - most - reelected that we should be exploring or asking for and examining to try and improve the situation?

[00:26:42] Edmund Witter: I hate to comment more generally about the judiciary. I would say the really number one reason why the court has really struggled to deal with some of the backlog, and I think there's two reasons. One of them is not in their control and one more is. The first one is that the court is oftentimes the place where all of our societal issues come to pass, whether it's a criminal justice issue, behavioral health care, housing, homelessness, drug issues - the court ultimately is the place where all these issues start to intersect and they're forced to deal with really what might be more general shortcomings of the entire community. And so the court is the one that has to deal with that and they often struggle under the weight of that, which is understandable. So that part, I don't blame the court with trying to figure out how to handle some of these issues that really the other branches of government are struggling to deal with as well. The part that - in terms of the judiciary, though - that I think is a little bit more in control is I think the courts tend to struggle with administrative, logistical, organizational skills in implementation. And so we've had court experiences filing for protection orders where we're just given the wrong courtroom. And this is happening in an area where there's a lot of people who don't have attorneys. And the really basic logistical functions - that can be a real struggle. And I think that comes just from the fact that judges, by their experience, are not necessarily people who have administrative or managerial experience - they're lawyers, and that's how they get that position. And to be a lawyer - as I am myself, I can tell you - you do not necessarily need managerial skills or administrative skills. And I think that's a really big shortcoming within the court system that ultimately is supposed to be accessible to everyone. And so when these kind of challenges tend to come up, I think we tend to see the court really struggle with it.

And I think what's heartbreaking and hard to watch from just a member of legal profession is the courts, the Superior Court in particular in King County has actually a pretty high turnover. We run a program that has a similar number of staff, and we have fewer turnover than the courts and the judges do. And you can see it. You can see the burnout. And having a cynical judge or one who's burned out is not pleasant. And that really can jeopardize somebody's liberty, their rights, or whatever it is - the relief that they're seeking for. And I think that shows at various times. And I think a lot of judicial officers are trying really hard, but really struggling under the weight of that, and the failure to really get everything together, try to administer it. And this is an issue that's not just haunting evictions, it's haunting protection orders and the ability to be able to get those, it's haunting guardianships, the criminal justice system. And the court is really struggling under the weight of that. So if I was going to talk to judges or people seeking election, I'd want to know how they plan on trying to deal with a lot of these access to justice issues. How do you plan on dealing with the backlog? How do you plan on making sure that judicial officers are well educated, that litigants are not experiencing burned out judicial officers who are really kind of cynical and not going to hear a case and making sure that they're giving everybody their due. And do they have creative insights? What do they bring? Unfortunately, that does not tend to be the focus of judicial elections - oftentimes they go under the radar. And to the extent that there are questions, it's often about their impartiality, their ability to stay neutral - which is an important value in a judge, but it's certainly not exactly the entire thing that we need in that branch of government.

[00:30:13] Crystal Fincher: That is very useful and helpful info and insight - I appreciate that. For people who are just really concerned seeing their neighbors struggle with affording the rent, not wanting to see their neighbors or people in their communities lose their housing - what are the most helpful things they can advocate for in terms of policy and to their elected officials?

[00:30:41] Edmund Witter: Yeah, some of the most important things that have been on the radar - Representative Alvarado's rent stabilization bill from last session, I think was pretty critical in trying to stem what is something we tend to see a lot of, which is high rent increases. When we've surveyed our clients who are facing eviction, the average rent increase that they're seeing is between $250 to $300 - that tends to be about a 15 to 20%, depending on how much rent. And we've seen them as high as $2,000 to $3,000. And so a lot of tenants and a lot of Washington residents are not aware that there's a cap on how much - or that there is no cap actually, on how much rent can be raised. And it's a pretty critical policy to at least provide - calling it rent stabilization, calling it rent control is probably a misnomer - it's really preventing gouging. And I think that's something that is a pretty reasonable policy that would go a long way to at least provide some predictability in that. The second thing is, again, really trying to make sure that we have good safety net supports, whether it's providing short-term rental assistance to individuals who need it, whether it's providing more better behavior healthcare supports - and there is some positive directions going on in that. I think there has been some good investments, whether it's the Health Through Housing initiative, Crisis Care Centers, but still a lot that needs to be opened up by the county. And so I think there's really good policies heading that direction. It's just a matter of can we actually get them in on time so that they're helping tenants today. And a lot of evictions are preventable. Evictions are something that I generally don't think landlords or tenants actually agree on - they don't want to do, they wish it did not happen. And ultimately, there's a lot there. But this is a social crisis that unfortunately goes through the legal process. And I think we tend to look at it only as a legal process, unfortunately. And I think it's something that is definitely in need of just more attention and support.

[00:32:34] Crystal Fincher: Well, certainly a lot to think about - good information to move forward with in terms of advocacy and action. I really thank you for taking the time to share with us and help inform us today. Thank you very much, Edmund.

[00:32:48] Edmund Witter: Thanks for having me.

[00:32:49] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.