Oregon will finally end its emergency rental assistance program on Aug. 12 after paying out $400 million in federal and state funds to more than 60,000 households during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services estimates that more than 130,000 people were able to stay housed because of the aid. According to its earlier reports, the typical household averaged 2.2 people, and the average payment per household — which went to landlords — was $6,400.
The federal government supplied $289 million, and the U.S. Treasury recently approved $7 million more for Oregon from unspent allocations to other states. (Some counties and the city of Portland got smaller amounts for their own programs.) The Oregon Legislature added $100 million in the current two-year state budget.
"Throughout the pandemic, OHCS and our partners have worked relentlessly to distribute critical emergency resources to create stability for vulnerable renters and cash-strapped landlords — all in service to supporting an equitable recovery," said Jill Smith, interim director of housing stabilization for the state agency.
The Legislature also approved $150 million for emergency rental assistance in December 2020, when prospects for approval of federal funds were uncertain. That money was spent by the end of the 2019-21 budget cycle and are excluded from the total.
New applications were closed months ago, but some applications are still being processed. Agency officials said there is no guarantee that all remaining applications will be funded. Approvals are based on need, not on a first-come, first-served basis.
Tenants who gave proof of applications to their landlords — either to the state program or others in several Oregon counties — will still have state protections against evictions for nonpayment through Sept. 30 or until their applications are closed, whichever comes soonest.
The protections do not forgive any rent owed.
According to an agency report as of June 30, applications from Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties accounted for 49.4% of the statewide total, and payments made, 51.7%. The counties took up $221.1 million of the $386.7 million paid through June 30 (57.2%), no surprise given that rents are more expensive in the metro area.
Marion County accounted for 7.5% of payments, 4,496 at $28.6 million; Yamhill County, 1.8% of payments, 1,083 at $6.7 million, and Columbia County, 1.3% of payments, 777 at $3.7 million.
In Central Oregon: Deschutes County, 3.3%, 2,015 at $12.6 million; Crook County, .3%, 177 at $920,260; Jefferson County, .4%, 229 at $1.2 million.
There are no moves in Congress or the Legislature to replenish the fund, which was intended to be temporary.
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, Oregon now leads all states in the share of money paid out or obligated for emergency rental assistance. California was second and New York third, but California's total topped $4 billion and New York's was $2.6 billion.
"As one of a handful of top-performing states, our program attributes our ability to scale the program quickly to our strong partnerships. Yet the demonstrable need remains," Smith said. "We always knew that even with record levels of assistance, the need in Oregon continues to far exceed the available funding. I'm grateful to the Oregon Legislature for taking the forward-thinking step of funding additional eviction supports for struggling Oregonians. We know the need continues."
In the next phase, as emergency rental assistance winds down, the state agency and the community action agencies it works with can tap $100 million that the Oregon Legislature approved in December 2021 for eviction prevention. The state also has federal funds for this purpose.
Some money can be spent on rental assistance, but the community action agencies are empowered to spend it on mediation services, legal services and case management.
Among them are agencies in each of the three metro counties, one for three northwest Oregon counties, one each for Marion and Yamhill counties, and one for the three Central Oregon counties.
For Multnomah County, it's $8.16 million; Clackamas County, $2.66 million; Washington County, $1.7 million; Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties, $1.2 million; Yamhill County, $893,700, and NeighborImpact of Central Oregon, $2.1 million.
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