Rental aid payments still lag in metro area
Despite progress in the past six weeks, unreviewed and incomplete applications far outnumber already-approved payments for rental assistance in the Portland metro area as a spend-it-or-lose-it deadline nears.
According to the dashboard maintained by the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services, 7,549 of 34,521 applications statewide were approved for payment to landlords as of Sept. 16 — 21.9% — for a total of $47.7 million of $204.7 million requested. About one-third of applications have not yet undergone an initial review.
But for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, the totals were far less according to the Sept. 16 posting. For them collectively, 1,959 of 18,414 applications (10.6%) have been approved for payment, or $15.2 million of $121.3 million requested. Not quite half the total applications (7,651, or 41.6%) have yet to undergo an initial review.
In Multnomah County, which accounts for about one-third of applications statewide, 11,644 households seek a total of $73.2 million, but 1,605 have been approved for payment at $12.1 million. A total of 4,329 applications (46%) have yet to undergo an initial review.
In Washington County, 4,821 households seek $34.6 million, and 227 have been approved for payment at $1.8 million. Awaiting initial review were 2,333 applications, or 48%.
In Clackamas County, 1,949 households seek $13.5 million, and 127 have been approved for payment at $1.3 million. Awaiting initial review were 989 applications, or 51%.
All figures exclude incomplete applications, which total 12,295 statewide, 7,262 of them from the three counties.
The state agency says the dashboard is updated twice a week.
The agency is working with community action agencies in counties, some of which have run their own rental assistance programs. But in a statement furnished to Pamplin Media Group, it acknowledges there have been challenges in handling millions in aid that neither it nor community agencies have had to pay out before now.
The statement said:
"OHCS and community action agencies (CAAs) have faced numerous challenges in administering OERAP (rental assistance) funds, along with many other states. From a decentralized rental assistance program, to inconsistencies in using federal flexibilities for self-attestation in counties, to technology challenges, OHCS have been doing everything in its power to remove barriers, process applications quickly and get funds out the door."
Director Margaret Salazar said last month that her agency hired 63 more staff and contractors and added an outside vendor — for a total of more than 160 — to process applications and help tenants finalize incomplete applications. The vendor is Public Partnerships LLC, based in Boston, which has worked on other Oregon programs.
State officials have pledged to meet a federal target of committing 65% of Oregon's share of rental assistance for payments to landlords by Sept. 30 — or the federal government can recoup the money for use elsewhere.
However, Oregon is not the only state coping with problems arising from the program, which started with state money but got infusions of more than $200 million under President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan, known as the American Rescue Plan Act.
Back on Aug. 4, according to the state dashboard, 2,057 of the 25,000 completed applications then pending statewide were approved for payment totaling $12.6 million. But in Multnomah County, 149 households were approved for $1.1 million; Washington County, 12 at $37,680, and Clackamas County, 4 at $10,417.
The pressure for processing payments comes as state and Multnomah County grace periods are approaching their end. Oregon lawmakers passed a law that delays eviction proceedings 60 days if tenants show proof to landlords that they have applied for rental assistance. In Multnomah County, that period is 90 days.
Neither measure forgives past-due rent.
The state housing agency said in its statement:
"OHCS is working with the Oregon Department of Justice, the Oregon Law Center, county court systems, landlords, community action agencies, tenant housing advocates and the larger legal community to prevent evictions from moving forward. The governor's office has instructed judges hearing eviction cases that they not forward with eviction proceedings if a renter has applied for rental assistance.
"All that said, the threat of evictions looms large. We are counting on landlords to do the right thing. We know they've been patient. We know they are in a tough situation. Funds are flowing out the door. They have already received more than $182.6 million in rental assistance funds in 2021. Evictions will only slow the process in getting them funds."
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