LYNNWOOD — Theirs is not an easy calling.
The twins from Mukilteo are property managers for affordable housing complexes in Lynnwood.
In good times, collecting monthly rent can be challenging enough.
In these uncertain times, their obligation is that much more difficult and sometimes heartbreaking. It is a balancing act between conveying grace during a relentless pandemic and fulfilling their job responsibilities to collect rent checks.
“If you go out in public and say the words ‘landlord’ or ‘property manager,’ it’s kind of a four-letter word at this point,” Rachel Morgan said.
Rachel and Britt Morgan, 32, serve hundreds of low-income tenants in two apartments in Lynnwood owned by HNN Communities. Britt oversees the Scriber Creek Apartments, at 20921 44th Ave W, while Rachel manages the Madison Way Apartments, at 14615 Madison Way, about five miles north.
There is purpose in the work, the sisters said. It’s connecting residents from all walks of life to sustainable housing and sharing in life’s big moments, like a first apartment or a couple moving in together.
Hardship is also easy to find. When rent comes due, many residents affected by COVID-19 can’t make ends meet, and property owners are left wondering what to do without checks coming through the door.
“This pandemic affected landlords in a horrible way, just like renters,” said Galina Volchkova, housing director for the Dispute Resolution Center through Volunteers of America (VOA). “The eviction moratorium was a great thing, it was a stress relief for many renters. … But it also was putting a patch on the issue, because it would not resolve the issue by just putting rental payments on hold.”
From one-unit dwellings to apartment complexes of hundreds, it’s a problem facing landlords and tenants across Snohomish County. A year of financial insecurity has their uncertainty at an all-time high.
Volchkova hears from small, private landlords facing difficult decisions to sell their rental property or even their own house when credit is maxed out or savings run dry.
Britt Morgan said residents are visibly stressed as they contemplate how to keep a roof over their heads.
In these moments of helplessness, Britt and Rachel said, they are grateful for the work of VOA and the Dispute Resolutions Center.
“I have no idea where our residents would be or what they would do, that’s just the honest truth,” Rachel said. “I don’t even want to think about it.”
The sisters serve as liaisons within their communities, referring tenants to VOA’s 211 line for support meeting basic needs.
In one call, counselors can connect locals living in financial straits to a wealth of resources based on their qualifications. Rental assistance, food supplements, landlord-tenant mediation, mental health counseling, job training and more are a dial away.
“We are not an enemy or advocate for anyone, we are trying to create solutions, find some peace and resolve issues,” Volchkova said.
Through collaboration with landlords like Rachel and Britt, VOA developed inroads at complexes where many residents were hit hard by COVID-19. For small mom-and-pop landlords, the service has also been a lifeline, connecting with about 400 new vendors seeking assistance since the pandemic began.
“We cannot resolve the risk of homelessness or the housing crisis without landlords,” she said.
During the eviction moratorium, in place through at least March, stories of bad behavior on both sides have been common. A lousy landlord can sour perception of property owners, and an unruly tenant can ruin a living situation for everyone around them.
Britt and Rachel acknowledge these unfortunate relationships but encourage individuals struggling in the pandemic to open a line of communication with their landlord in search of a resolution.
“All I ask of them is just to give me a chance,” said Britt, who has seen first hand the relief that accompanies rental assistance for residents struggling to meet those most essential needs. “Give us the opportunity to try to help you.”
With tensions high, compassion is also on the rise, Volchkova said.
“I see a lot of landlords who are understanding and supporting renters, and I see also tenants trying to explain that they need assistance so much, because they couldn’t pay a landlord who also has needs,” she said. “… Through healthy tenant and landlord relationships, we are helping the entire community to avoid homelessness and stabilize housing.”
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.