Gov. Kate Brown has called a special session of the Oregon Legislature to extend temporary protections against eviction for tenants awaiting rental assistance.
She also said she wants lawmakers at the Dec. 13 session to approve up to $190 million to replenish rental assistance, until more federal money comes in, and to help tenants make the transition once that rental assistance ends next year.
More than 10,000 households have passed the 60-day grace period that lawmakers set during the 2021 session to prevent evictions if they have applied for rental assistance. (The "safe harbor" was set at 90 days by action of boards in Multnomah and Washington counties, and the Beaverton City Council.)
The Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services will stop accepting new applications for rental assistance as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1. The agency announced weeks ago that pending applications — an estimated 20,000 await review — would exhaust Oregon's $289 million allocation from the U.S. Treasury for assistance. It has paid applications for about 22,000 households with the help of extra staff, an outside vendor and community action agencies in Oregon counties.
Lawmakers set aside a total of $200 million in state funds for rental assistance during a special session nearly one year ago. But all of that money was spent by June.
"I am continuing to work with federal officials at U.S. Treasury and the White House to secure additional federal emergency rental assistance funding for Oregon, but it is clear that a state solution is needed to address the urgent and immediate needs of Oregon renters," Brown said Tuesday, Nov. 30, in her announcement of the special session.
"And we must begin laying the groundwork now for the transition to local eviction prevention services after federal pandemic emergency programs draw to an end."
Senate President Peter Courtney, the Legislature's senior member, has gone through 26 of the 46 special sessions in Oregon history — counting the Dec. 13 meeting — and has presided over 11 of them. He has seen runaway special sessions with no apparent ending, though he was not in charge of them.
"Special sessions are the most difficult of all sessions," the veteran Salem Democrat said. "Everything must be carefully planned. We have a lot of work to do. I hope we will be ready."
What others say
The Democratic leaders of the housing committees in both chambers say they have been working for months to craft a plan that can win legislative approval. The statement by Rep. Julie Fahey of Eugene and Sen. Kayse Jama of Portland said this:
"After months of work, we have developed a proposal to extend the state's bipartisan safe harbor protections and provide additional funds for direct rent assistance that will benefit both tenants and housing providers. As we head into the holiday season and the coldest winter months, this special session package will prevent heartbreaking evictions and support small housing providers who have made major sacrifices throughout the pandemic."
Representatives of Stable Homes for Oregon Families have taken part in the talks, as well as previous legislative efforts. Their statement:
"We also appreciate all the state lawmakers who have been working together on a solution. Tenants are counting on the legislature to ensure no one loses their home while their applications are pending and also to provide additional funding to help keep people safe and stable during this time of ongoing economic upheaval."
The Democratic majority leaders in both chambers, Sen. Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland, are responsible for rounding up votes. Their statement:
"From the start of the pandemic, Oregon has committed to protecting individuals and families at risk of eviction. We can take action in a special session to ensure this doesn't happen and that we keep our promise to Oregonians. No one should lose their housing because of administrative delays."
The new leader of House Republicans, who number 23 of the 60 members, said a special session was unnecessary and that the Emergency Board, a group of 20 lawmakers who decide budget matters between regular sessions, could allocate the money without calling all lawmakers back to Salem.
"Our unemployment level, jobless claims, and job openings have returned to pre-pandemic years. A special session is unnecessary," Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson of Prineville said. "After back-to-back years of record state revenue, the Emergency Board has the ability to allocate funds to support those already in line to receive rent assistance."
NOTE: Adds comment by new House Republican leader, Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson of Prineville.
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