Oregon tenants, landlords await relief in state legislation
Tenants and landlords can point to relief in legislation that awaits the signature of Gov. Kate Brown.
The Oregon House approved it on a 56-0 vote last week after negotiations between the political parties, tenant and landlord advocates, and state and local staffs. The amended Senate Bill 278 was repassed by the Senate on a 26-3 vote Tuesday, June 22.
Tenants will get 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 bill does not forgive their obligation to pay all past-due rent between April 2020 and June 30 of this year. They have until Feb. 28, 2022, to pay those amounts, but they must be current on rent as of July 1.
Landlords will get 100% of past-due rents under the rental assistance program — and if they accepted 80% under a previous program, they will be paid the other 20% they had forgiven.
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.
Rep. Julie Fahey, a Democrat from Eugene, said no one should face eviction despite a huge backlog of applications for rental assistance.
"We have never responded to a recession like the one cause by this global pandemic. We have never seen this much need for assistance. We have never had this much federal funding to address those needs," Fahey, who led the House Committee on Housing this session, said during the House debate.
"We have the resources we need to prevent evictions, make housing providers whole, and stabilize landlords and tenants."
Rep. Jack Zika, a Republican from Redmond who also was on that committee, said landlords will be compensated by an unspecified third party — likely a community action agency or local government — if tenants are found to be ineligible for assistance after the 60-day period.
"We added the third-party piece because there are concerns from tenants and landlords — and some of my colleagues — that we have tasked the state agency to do a lot during the pandemic," he said. "We are asking a lot of the Housing and Community Services Department and community action agencies. But these are trying times and Oregonians still need help."
Not fast enough
Brown had signed another bill (SB 282) to give tenants more time to pay past-due rent after a 15-month moratorium on evictions. She issued a three-month order in April 2020, and lawmakers extended the moratorium by law in June and December.
But at a June 4 hearing of the House committee, lawmakers were told that landlords were not getting rental assistance payments fast enough.
"Our expectation was there would be less need for rental assistance for July," Fahey said. "We all know that things are back to normal for some. But many families are still struggling with the recession and need more time."
As of June 15, the state housing agency said there were 10,830 pending applications — about two-thirds of them from the three Portland area counties — and an estimated 6,600 in the initial stages. The next update is on Tuesday, June 22. Assuming that the ratio of new applications is unchanged from those already filed, the Portland area will account for more than 10,000 — each representing about 2.5 people per household.
"We thank legislative leadership as well as Gov. Brown and others for pulling together so quickly to ensure that people who have applied for rent assistance will not get evicted while their applications are being processed," Sybil Hebb, an attorney with the Oregon Law Center, said after the Senate vote Tuesday.
Deborah Imse is the executive director of Multifamily NW, which represents providers of more than 200,000 units of rental housing.
"This bill won't fix the problems with accessing rental assistance, and we share the skepticism of legislators that OHCS will be able to effectively stand up a third fund to distribute assistance in only a matter of weeks," she said after the House vote. "But we are truly hopeful that this proposal will provide some certainty to both renters and housing providers."
Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, was the only other lawmaker to speak. He acknowledged that agencies are challenged by the workloads, but he said they should be prepared to handle them or lawmakers should intervene.
"There should be no more tolerance for 'oops' on this issue," Evans said.
Message: Apply now
Brown has tweeted twice in recent days that tenants must apply for assistance now if they want to obtain the 60-day protection under Senate Bill 278. Her tweet:
"Under current law, Oregon's eviction moratorium ends on June 30. This means your July rent must be paid to avoid possible eviction. There are financial resources available, so if you need help paying rent for July or in future months, please visit http://OregonRentalAssistance.org."
On the same day as the House vote, a joint event by Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan and others called attention to the looming deadline (Wednesday, June 23) for landlords to apply from the state's landlord compensation fund.
One of them was Ernesto Fonseca, chief executive of Hacienda Community Development Corp.
"It's going to take continued partnership like this and all of us working together — landlords, government, tenants and community-based organizations — as the eviction moratorium ends to keep families in their homes," he said.
Fahey said that inaction by lawmakers would end up causing more problems for Oregon.
"When people are evicted, it does immense harm to their physical and mental health, their children's education, their ability to get a job and their long-term well-being," she said. "Even after a short period of homelessness or instability, it can do generational damage to families and communities. It's difficult and expensive to reach people who have already been evicted to get back into stable housing. In a pandemic, evictions contribute to the spread of COVID-19."
NOTE: Updates with Senate concurrence vote Tuesday, June 22; adds comment by Sybil Hebb of Oregon Law Center.
The Portland metro area accounted for nearly two-thirds of the completed applications for rental assistance from the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services, as follows. Figures are as of June 15; an update was scheduled June 22, after press deadline:
• 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.)
— Peter Wong
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