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State official says enough remains to pay claims submitted by Dec. 1; 18,000 applicants await processing.

Oregon households behind on their rent can still apply for emergency rental assistance through Monday, March 14.

The Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services will stop accepting applications through its online portal at 11:59 p.m. that day. But Jill Smith, interim director of housing stabilization for the agency, says the new deadline is a week later than had been projected.

"Oregon renters will have more time to apply," Smith, a former housing director for Clackamas County, told reporters during a virtual briefing on Monday, March 7. "We have secured additional resources that will allow us to keep the portal (for emergency rental assistance) open longer than we had initially estimated."

The agency has reallocated $13 million from its budget not needed for housing stabilization programs — enough for assistance to another 1,900 households, Smith says — in addition to the $100 million more that state lawmakers added during a special session Dec. 13, and $1.1 million more that the U.S. Treasury allocated from federal funds left unspent by other states and communities.

The agency reported 18,000 applications awaiting processing by it, Public Partnerships LLC or community action agencies throughout Oregon. Under a law passed during the 2021 special session (Senate Bill 891), tenants are shielded from eviction proceedings if they have applied by the deadline and if they show proof to landlords that they have done so.

"The portal is open to people who have not previously received assistance and they are behind on rent," Smith said. The applicable period goes back to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic on April 1, 2020.

Oregon has spent or committed all of its $289 million share of federal funds for emergency rental assistance to aid about 40,000 households. This amount was in addition to $200 million in state funds that lawmakers approved in December 2020 and were spent by June 2021.

According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, which maintains a dashboard, Oregon ranked only behind Texas, New York and Connecticut (in ascending order) in the share of paid or committed federal money for rental assistance payments as of Feb. 28.

Gov. Kate Brown, backed by Oregon's congressional delegation, has requested $198 million more from unallocated federal funds.

"But at this time, we do not have specific details about the U.S. Treasury's plan to administer any reallocated funds," Smith said.

"This program was set up as a temporary emergency response to assist people most affected by the pandemic. It will soon be coming to an end."

Enough left for some

Smith said enough money remains to make emergency rental assistance payments to households that filed applications before the agency's initial closure back on Dec. 1. (The online portal reopened to applications on Jan. 26.)

"They all will not be paid, because they're not all eligible," she said of metro-area applications being processed by Public Partnerships LLC. "For all who are eligible, there will be payments. There is funding to do that."

But she also said the total of pending requests as of Feb. 24 add up to $208.7 million, almost twice as much as the $114 million now on hand, unless the U.S. Treasury approves additional federal money for Oregon.

"We know the need is great and we want to help everyone and every household in need," Smith said. "Unfortunately, that simply isn't possible due to limited funding. We will soon have committed or paid out all of our funding."

Brown did not request, and state lawmakers did not set aside, additional state money for emergency rental assistance in the session that ended March 4. The $400 million that lawmakers did add to the state budget for housing is split between emergency programs and long-term housing needs, such as construction of housing for people with household incomes below the area median income and homeownership assistance.

Some applications (about 19,000 of 77,000) have been withdrawn, deemed ineligible or are lacking the required information to proceed.

A 'lifeline' for some

Among those who spoke during the virtual briefing was Dora Totoian for the Oregon Human Development Corp., based in Gresham, with 10 offices across Oregon. They include Hillsboro, Woodburn, Bend and Hermiston.

The organization focuses on farmworkers, but Totoian estimated that 10,000 people heard about emergency rental assistance through its outreach efforts. The organization itself does not process payments.

"The pandemic has disproportionately impacted farmworkers," she said. "They do not have access to the kind of support other people have access to, such as unemployment benefits. Outreach to programs such as emergency rental assistance was critical."

She told the stories of two workers who got help through the program.

One farmworker at a Willamette Valley nursery got sick, lost his job, and in turn fell behind on rent. "The program was able to supply him with several months of back rent" and some future rent, Totoian said, that bought him enough time for him to save some money and look for a new job.

A housekeeper and her three children got sick, and she was unable to work. "She has faced a lot of difficulty going back to work after her COVID-19 diagnosis," Totoian said. "The program was able to support her with nine months of back rent."

Smith said the state agency will turn its attention to longer-term programs, such as permanent supportive housing, to ease Oregon's shortage of housing.

But she said emergency rental assistance served its purpose:

"We have heard from Oregonians across the state what a lifeline this program has been for them, how much stability and peace of mind it gave to their families when the rent was paid and they knew they would continue to have a safe place to be and to live."

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Status update

Status of applications for emergency rental assistance for selected counties as of Feb. 24. Information provided by Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services.

Multnomah County:

Submitted for funding, 14,852; under review, 4,525; incomplete information by tenant or landlord, 1,283.

Washington County:

Submitted for funding, 5,103; under review, 1,593; incomplete, 531.

Clackamas County:

Submitted for funding, 2,056; under review, 1,312; incomplete, 273.

Marion County:

Submitted for funding, 3,628; under review, 838; incomplete, 315.

Columbia County:

Submitted for funding, 651; under review, 104; incomplete, 26.

Yamhill County:

Submitted for funding, 898; under review, 240; incomplete, 103.

Deschutes County:

Submitted for funding, 1,747; under review, 376; incomplete, 147.

>Jefferson County:

Submitted for funding, 196; under review, 51; incomplete, 25.

Crook County:

Submitted for funding, 149; under review, 62; incomplete, 22.


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