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The Multnomah County Commission unanimously increases the protection to 90 days to get as much assistance to renters and landlords as possible.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Renters must still apply for assistance to be protected.The Multnomah County Commission unanimously voted to give tenants who are behind on their rents 30 more days of protection if they have applied for financial assistance.

"We are trying to get as much rental assistance money out the door as quickly and efficiently as possible," Commissioner Lori Stegmann said of the ordinance that was approved on Thursday, July 8.

The ordinance adds one month to the 60 days of protection approved by the 2021 Oregon Legislature before the statewide eviction moratorium ended on June 30. Tenants must provide their landlords with documentation that they have applied for the assistance, and must still pay all of their back rent by February 2022 to avoid being evicted.

The commission approved the additional 30 days to help ensure that all applications filed in Multnomah County can be processed on time. Of the estimated 15,148 households who have applied so far for state-funded rent assistance, approximately 10,202 reside in Multnomah County.

"The scale of projected need as compared to other Oregon counties requires additional time for service providers to process applications," the ordinance reads.

Despite the additional time, several of the commissioners were concerned that many tenants will still be evicted because they are unaware the assistance is available, do not know how to apply, or are afraid to seek government support.

"At the end of the day, there are just not complete solutions for the housing problems caused by COVID," said County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.

Some commissioners also said they were worried that not all applications will be processed in time, even with the additional 30 days. County staff did not know how many applications are still being processed by the numerous community-based organizations that traditionally process applications for rental assistance. And only half of the 10,020 application filed through the state of Oregon in Multnomah County have been completed so far.

In fact, the county is still hiring new employees to help process the state applications, said Peggy Samolinski, director of the county's Youth and Family Services Division.

Jayapal also said the county should have extended its lapsed eviction moratorium when the state's moratorium expired.

According to the ordinance, the county normally processes $10 million in applications per year. But the county and its partners are now responsible for distributing almost $150 million in assistance by the end of the summer, "requiring a significant reorganization and expansion of its systems."

Tenant advocates have been calling for the eviction moratorium to be extended to prevent large numbers of people from losing their homes. Landlord representatives have said property owners are increasingly at risk of losing their rental homes because of the lack of payments. The additional 30 days was opposed by Deborah Imse, executive director of Multifamily NW.

"We anticipate major confusion amongst renters and housing providers with this last-minute change, causing further anxiety for those struggling to recover from pandemic hardships. The proposal does nothing to address the underlying problem that Multnomah County has a giant backlog of rental assistance applications and has not provided a plan to process 10,000 rental assistance applications on any timeline, let alone 90 days," Imse told the Portland Tribune.

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.

Tenants who have not already applied for assistance through a community-based organization can apply at Tenants who receive eviction notices are urged to call 211.

The ordinance can be found here.

A previous Pamplin Media Group story on the issue can be found here.

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