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Legislative committee OKs bill to shield renters from eviction and guarantee landlords past-due rents.

Oregon lawmakers reached an agreement that will give tenants 60-day protection from eviction proceedings if they show their landlords they have applied for rental assistance in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

The agreement, which the House Rules Committee approved unanimously Wednesday night, June 16, also guarantees that landlords will be paid all of their past-due rent from the state program. Under an earlier state program, landlords had to forgo 20% of past-due rents to obtain payment for the other 80%. But they now will be compensated for the rest — and without a proposed tax credit that would have taken money out of state coffers for a few years.

Counting $200 million that the Legislature approved Dec. 21 for tenants and landlords, and $300 million more in federal funds that Congress approved in December and March, Oregon has amassed more than $500 million available for rental assistance. But much of that money has not yet reached landlords.

The agreement is intended to head off the potential eviction of thousands of renters who are awaiting assistance but faced the prospect of being unable to pay rent as of July 1.

"Oregon renters who are in line for rent assistance desperately need protection when the eviction moratorium ends," Patty Wentz, a spokeswoman for Stable Homes for Oregon Families, said after the House committee vote on the revised Senate Bill 278.

"We are so pleased House committee members came together in a bipartisan fashion to move the bill forward. We urge the full House and the Oregon Senate to quickly pick up the bipartisan baton and carry it to the finish line before the session ends next week."

The revised Senate Bill 278 requires votes of the House and Senate, which approved a different version March 24.

A different bill (SB 282) signed May 19 by Gov. Kate Brown bars evictions for failure to pay past-due rent during the pandemic until Feb. 28, 2022. But it requires tenants to be current on rent as of July 1.

Brown said in a tweet earlier Wednesday:

"If you have outstanding rent from April 2020 to June 2021, or rent due in July, you may be eligible for rental assistance. Remember: Oregon's eviction moratorium ends June 30, so you must pay July rent to avoid possible eviction."

The web page is https://www.oregonrentalassistance.org.

10,000 and growing

According to the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, 10,830 applications for rental assistance are pending from tenants as of June 15. That figure represents more than 26,000 people. Another 6,600 applications have been started; they are excluded from the total.

Nearly two-thirds of the completed applications originated in the Portland metro area, as follows:

• Multnomah County: 4,661 applicants, seeking $31.2 million for rent and $2.9 million for utility assistance. Average request is for $7,350.

• Washington County: 1,819 applicants, seeking $13.7 million for rent and $1.3 million for utility assistance. Average request is for $8,249.

• Clackamas County: 588 applicants, seeking $4.4 million for rent and $400,000 for utility assistance. Average request is for $8,155.

Statewide, two-thirds of the applicants are from white households and 18% from Hispanic households, based on ethnicity. By race, 47% were from white households and 18% from Black households. (Hispanics can be of any race, according to the U.S. Census.)

Rep. Julie Fahey, a Democrat from Eugene, presented the elements of a bill that in its initial stages had threatened once again to widen a rift between tenants and landlords.

"The Legislature ensures that tenants who have done everything right in this process have a safe harbor from eviction as they await their assistance," she said.

Though Fahey sits on the Rules Committee, she also led the House Committee on Housing during the current session. Fahey gave credit to legislative, agency and other staffers for working out the details.

No tax credit

Rep. Jack Zika, a Republican from Redmond who also sits on both panels, had proposed a tax credit to offset landlords' losses of 20% from past-due rents when they accepted payments from a $150 million state compensation fund that lawmakers set up in December. Landlords would have subtracted those losses directly from their income taxes under that proposal, which was identical to Senate Bill 330.

"This will be better for landlords than having to go through a tax credit process," Fahey said. "Those landlords have already applied (for state payments), been verified, and in many cases have received checks, so they already have that relationship and it should be fairly easy to administer these payments."

The new legislation will empower the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department to give some of the state and federal rental assistance funds to an unspecified third party, which would make the payments to landlords while state and local agencies comb through tenant applications for rental assistance. That money also will go directly to landlords once tenants are deemed eligible for assistance.

In addition to the state agency, several community action agencies or other local organizations are helping tenants. In Multnomah County, it is Home Forward. In Washington County, the Housing Services Department is part of county government, as is the Health, Housing and Human Services Department in Clackamas County. Both suburban counties also have housing authorities.

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