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People with economic losses linked to coronavirus concerns would have 6 months to pay back rent.

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - City Attorney Bill Kirby explains Beaverton's proposed moratorium on residential evictions during the coronavirus emergency at a City Council meeting Tuesday night. Seated on either side of Mayor Denny Doyle were Councilors Marc San Soucie and Cate Arnold. Councilors Lacey Beaty, Mark Fagin and Laura Mitchell took part by telephone to allow the others to maintain a recommended social distance of 6 feet.
Beaverton joined Multnomah County and Portland in calling a temporary halt to residential evictions as concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus result in layoffs and work-hour reductions.

The City Council approved the moratorium Tuesday, March 17, after it unanimously endorsed Mayor Denny Doyle's declaration of a city emergency on Friday. The moratorium, though it was not on the council agenda, is a follow-up to that declaration.

After four of the five councilors voted for the moratorium — Councilor Mark Fagin abstained — Doyle signed the moratorium after the meeting. It took effect immediately.

City Attorney Bill Kirby drafted the moratorium resolution, which is modeled on one approved earlier Tuesday by Multnomah County and Portland. Similar measures have been taken in Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and New York.

Kirby said the city can assert that it is in the public interest to avert making people homeless while the emergency lasts.

"The authority of the mayor to do things to mitigate the harm from the COVID-19 virus emergency is a point to be determined on a rational basis. I think there is an argument to be made that this is a rational thing to do," he said.

"I am confident that you have the legal authority to do this."

Kirby said he got no indication that Washington County commissioners were prepared to follow suit, though he checked with the county counsel.

Like the emergency declaration, the moratorium on evictions must be renewed every two weeks under Oregon law. The council can do so, or it can delegate that authority to the mayor.

For people who can show a link between the economic slowdown triggered by virus concerns and a loss of household income, the measure would bar residential evictions for nonpayment of rent — and they would have a six-month grace period to make up rent payments after the emergency officially ends. Landlords cannot charge late fees.

For people who cannot show that linkage, and fail to pay rent during the emergency, the measure also would bar them from being evicted. But they would not get a grace period.

"I think it is important to send a message right now," Councilor Marc San Soucie said. Although state and federal officials have not yet signaled an intent to order people to shelter in place — as is being done now in seven San Francisco Bay Area counties — "keeping people in their homes would seem to be a fundamental requirement of getting through the next few weeks."

According to the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, 52% of Beaverton residents are renters and 48% are homeowners — and 47.5% of the renters say they pay more than 30% of their household income on rent and related expenses.

"We are having a disproportionate amount of people laid off," Councilor Lacey Beaty said in referring to renters. "This isn't going to excuse people from paying their rent ever, but it is going to give them the immediate relief of not feeling that their house is going to be taken from underneath them."

The measure is not retroactive.

Responding to Councilor Laura Mitchell, who raised a question about the effects on landlords' mortgages if renters fail to pay, Kirby said the council would be free to refine the measure later.

Although all five councilors participated in Tuesday's meeting, three of them — Beaty, Fagin and Mitchell — did so by telephone to allow the others to maintain a social distance of 6 feet from each other. San Soucie sat to Doyle's right, and Cate Arnold sat to Doyle's left. Doyle presides over the council but votes only if there is a tie.

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