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Pending amendment requires them to show landlords they seek rental assistance that's now available.

Pending legislation would allow Oregon tenants 60-day protection from eviction proceedings if they can show their landlords they have applied for rental assistance in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

Though some assistance has been paid to landlords already, Oregon's moratorium on evictions is set to end June 30. Senate Bill 282, signed by Gov. Kate Brown on May 19, extends a grace period for payment of past-due rent during the pandemic to Feb. 28, 2022. But tenants have to be current on rent starting on July 1.

The 60-day "safe harbor" is proposed as an amendment to Senate Bill 278, pending in the House Rules Committee. It would give tenants 60 days for their assistance to be approved — tenants would have to show proof of their applications — and landlords to get paid by a state or local agency.

"This proposal does not extend the eviction moratorium," Sybil Hebb, an attorney with the Oregon Law Center, told the committee on Monday, June 14. "The purpose of this amendment is simple: No one who is in a line for rental assistance should face eviction for now."

Landlords could proceed with evictions if there is no payment within 60 days, although eviction notices must inform tenants that rental assistance is available.

For their part, individual landlords and some groups opposed any new legislation.

The committee is scheduled to act on the amended bill Tuesday, June 15.

Money is pending

More than $400 million awaits distribution to landlords from state and federal programs, including $222.5 million from President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan that Congress approved and Biden signed March 11. The largest share at $156.5 million went to the state, but Portland and the three metro area counties also got some of that money.

The Legislature itself approved a total of $200 million — $150 million for compensation of landlords and $50 million for tenants — at a Dec. 21 special session. Lawmakers did so as part of a second six-month extension of an evictions moratorium Brown declared last spring at the onset of the pandemic, and lawmakers enacted for six months in June 2020.

According to a statement filed with the committee by Margaret Salazar, director of the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, 10,000 applications for rental assistance were pending as of June 7 — barely a month after initial federal guidance was issued for assistance — and 6,600 more have been started. Many of the pending applications also seek rental assistance for July. Almost $52 million would go to rent, and $8 million more to assistance with utility payments.

"The Legislature's great work was designed based on the reasonable assumption that these dollars would be in distribution in communities across the state by now. That has not happened," Hebb said.

"There are hundreds of millions of dollars available exactly for this purpose on hand. We are not yet getting it out the door."

Hebb said legislatures in other states face the same issue with delayed payments, and Michigan, Nevada and New York are taking steps similar to Oregon.

Salazar said delays in federal guidance on how the money should be spent — which got simplified after Biden's appointees took office — complicated the task of state and local agencies.

"Oregonians need more time to successfully submit applications without immediate risk of eviction," she said in her statement. "Local administrators need time to process these unprecedented number of applications from families and individuals in need of rapid assistance."

Kotek: Apply now

House Speaker Tina Kotek said people should apply for assistance as soon as possible through oregonrentalassistance.org.

"Tenants have to apply proactively," she told reporters on a conference call Monday. "They've got to get in the queue and apply. For those people who are making the effort and meet the eligibility requirements, we have got to get them help."

While the Rules Committee heard testimony, Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, said the 60-day "safe harbor" is what state and local agencies will have to work with in paying out rental assistance to landlords.

"It is going to have to be that," Kotek said. "I'm sure landlords would like a shorter time frame. Advocates would like a longer time frame. We are saying we are going to solve this problem over the next couple of months."

Other pending amendments to SB 278 by Rep. Jack Zika of Redmond and House Minority Leader Christine Drazan of Canby, both Republicans, would create tax credits that landlords can subtract directly from taxes owed to offset any losses from unpaid rent. Government rental assistance payments would be excluded from the calculations.

But the creation of new tax credits is unlikely as lawmakers head to an adjournment target of June 27. Lawmakers on the revenue committees are putting together a final list of tax credits for the two-year budget cycle that starts July 1 — and those credits have to be offset by money elsewhere in the state budget.

Among those supporting the 60-day amendment was Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan, who submitted a statement to the committee.

"With one in five Oregon renters residing in Portland and one in four Oregon renters living in Multnomah County, the city in partnership with the county strongly supported SB 282 to allow the state sufficient time to distribute critical federal rent assistance. Unfortunately, a gap in protections has been unintentionally created. The Safe Harbor amendment will provide a narrow, targeted fix to the issue we face," he said.

"It would be devastating if people lost their homes because money didn't get allocated in time."

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