Walla Walla City Council will consider a suspension of commercial evictions and foreclosures for businesses unable to pay their rent in the COVID-19 crisis.
The matter was raised in a letter from Kathryn Witherington, executive director for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, to Councilwoman Susan Nakonieczny.
Witherington asked the Council to consider an ordinance to help protect local businesses under financial duress during the pandemic.
“The median small business only has 27 days of cash to draw upon in the event of economic shock,” Witherington wrote in the letter read to Council on Wednesday. “I am hearing directly from businesses in my downtown district that they need assistance immediately.
“Small businesses need a bridge to weather this crisis, keep their staff employed and be in a position to lead an economic recovery.”
Witherington got the idea when she read that Spokane had passed an ordinance temporarily banning all foreclosures and evictions of commercial tenants through April. The move added more protections to residential eviction protections ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month.
Walla Walla City Council is expected to discuss and vote on the matter at its next virtual meeting, April 8, 6:30 p.m.
Councilman Riley Clubb said he is leaning toward support of the ordinance and believes the city should include residential evictions, even though Inslee’s 30-day moratorium announced March 18 accounted for residential areas.
“It is still a good idea to pass our own version, just to reinforce that that is the actions we want to have happen in our community,” Clubb said.
Councilman Myron Huie said the action should not apply to those evicted before the emergency declaration March 16.
The COVID-19 crisis could have devastating effects on the more than 200 small businesses in downtown Walla Walla, Witherington said.
A foreclosure or eviction could make re-opening even more difficult, she said.
“There’s a lot of conversations that are already happening between tenants and landlords around this issue with commercial businesses,” she said. “Most landlords are incredibly generous.”