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Renters' demand for services increasing as many landlords continue rent hikes of 10% maximum annually

Amid a global pandemic, rising housing costs, rental assistance delays and uncertainties surrounding the future of the federal eviction moratorium, Clackamas County renters face an unprecedented set of challenges to remain housed.

According to a statewide study released June 28 by Portland State University, over 59,000 Oregon households have no confidence in their ability to pay rent next month, and roughly 66,000 have little confidence, totaling more than 125,000 households at risk of eviction post-moratorium across the state.

To respond to the growing problem, a number of community organizations are stepping up to assist renters through the difficult time, including the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT). As Oregon's oldest tenant advocacy organization, CAT offers hotline services and direct advocacy for primarily Metro-area tenants facing eviction or other housing conflicts.

Executive Director Kim McCarty said increasing housing costs are a major aspect of the systemic backdrop allowing the issue to perpetuate.

"Every year the cost of housing goes up, seemingly without a cap," McCarty said. "We do have Senate Bill 608, which is not a rent cap, but it does provide some relief from rising rents. But regardless, no one's income is going up at the rate of 10% a year, and many of our landlords are still increasing the rents up to the limit that is possible for them. And that's beyond the reach of many people."

Tenant Education & Support Director Dung Ho said CAT has experienced an uptick in callers requesting services over the past several months.

"We are experiencing a high volume of calls," Ho said. "April through June, and just for Portland calls, we were able to complete 327. So that's in a three-month period. And right now we have a hotline queue of about 300 calls. So the demand is very high."

"Something that we're experiencing is that the intensity of the calls has increased," Ho added. "And the kinds of situations that tenants are calling about are, you know, very urgent."

While both CAT representatives say demand has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue was present long before then.

"Even before the public-health crisis, many of our low-income communities and communities of color were in a housing crisis," McCarty said.

"I think that a lot of the barriers that folks were experiencing even before the pandemic are definitely exacerbated or magnified through this pandemic," Ho added. "A lot of the burden is falling on the tenant to know where the resources are and be able to access them."

To compound the issue, Metro supportive housing services (SHS) have lately faced major funding uncertainty as well, after a delay in several millions of funding dollars from Measure 26-210, a business and personal income tax designed to raise money for SHS, left five area housing services at risk of being defunded or discontinued.

County commissioners approved a $3 million advance from Metro on July 20 to put towards an essential services budget, allowing them to fund SHS with the option to request an additional $2 million if needed for a total of $5 million.

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, commissioners were informed that Metro offered to extend the full $24.5 million up front to fund housing services, but county elected officials opted to look further into the contractual terms with their legal counsel before making an official decision.COURTESY PHOTO: DREAMSTIME - Oregon lawmakers approved a bill to extend an eviction moratorium through next year.

Brandi Johnson, coordinator for Oregon City-based LoveOne, a nonprofit that regularly provides clean laundry, showers, meals, personal care resources and more for individuals in need across Clackamas County, said the extra SHS funding from Metro would be a "game changer."

"Between March 2020 and May 2021, LoveOne doubled the number of families we served pre-COVID. As of last month, we have tripled our early 2020 numbers," Johnson said in a statement via email. "Implementation of the SHS program in Clackamas County will provide much-needed relief to service organizations and allow us to expand capacity to meet the needs of those we serve."

"Service providers are doing only as well as our communities, and the reality is that we are running mile 36 of what we thought was a marathon," Johnson added. "Families are on the edge since experiencing the triple threat of a pandemic, wildfires and weather-related events. These pressures on our families are pressures on local service providers."

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