OPINION: Renters need more time to pay back rent
In December, Oregon's state lawmakers passed an important tenant protection package that extended the eviction moratorium and provided funding for financial assistance for both landlords and renters.
This protection came just in the nick of time for people like me. I have been able to stay safe and stable in our home even as I wasn't able to work because of a pre-existing lung condition that has hospitalized me four times.
As I depleted my savings, cut down on expenses, sold belongings and accessed as much rental assistance as I could, I didn't have to worry about being evicted as I fell further behind on rent. But as the end of the eviction moratorium gets closer on June 30, I am deeply concerned that I will not be able to get current on my rent in time or access other rent assistance that is available.
The disparate effects of the pandemic on Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in Oregon are just now starting to be fully understood. It is clear that recovery from the pandemic will continue to be out of reach for many populations.
The Office of Economic Analysis predicts Oregon won't reach full employment until 2023, and prospects for low-income workers most affected by the pandemic will remain dim for some time to come.
Meanwhile, our state systems have been overwhelmed by need during the pandemic and are scrambling to keep up.
With the information we have now, it is clear that without further state action, Oregon could be right back where it started last year, with tens of thousands of people facing eviction this summer.
While most renters have managed to keep up, an estimated 11% to 16% of households are behind on their rent. And according to research from Portland State University, without interventions, nearly 90,000 households face eviction in 2021.
This is why Oregon lawmakers must pass Senate Bill 282, the Tenant COVID Recovery Act.
This important bill will extend the grace period to pay back rent to February 2022, giving people like me more time to catch up on back rent or access rental assistance from systems that continue to be overwhelmed. We all want to pay our COVID-related debts as fast as possible, but some people are going to need a little more time to do so, and the state is clearly going to need more time to get funds distributed.
Additionally, with Oregon poised to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in new rental assistance under the American Rescue Plan, it would be a tragedy for people to get evicted before that money is distributed.
SB 282 will also protect renters from being banned from housing in the future if they are managing back rent or COVID-era evictions and helps prevent landlord retaliation, which unfortunately has been on the rise during COVID, according to tenant reports.
This month, tenants, small landlords and advocates came together in support of SB 282 over a series of hearings in the state Senate. I was very proud to be a part of that.
I hope our leaders will stand strong and continue helping the people most harmed by the pandemic so that all of us can get through it together and come out stronger on the other side.
Ruhiyyih Bagley is an Aloha resident.
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