Opinion: Oregon renters need more protections from COVID-19's fallout
In December's one-day special session, Oregon lawmakers took action to ensure that Oregonians won't be evicted during the darkest days of winter as COVID-19 continues to disrupt our communities and economy.
Through the passage of House Bill 4401, the Oregon Legislature recognized the importance of having a safe and stable home.
Testimony in favor of the bill came from nearly 200 renters, landlords, faith leaders and service organizations, painting a powerful picture of the financial insecurity the virus has wrought on Oregon families in every part of the state. The new protections are particularly urgent for Oregonians of color.
As in all things, structural racism plays out in access to housing and health outcomes. Black Oregonians are twice as likely to live in poverty, two times more likely than white people to rent their homes instead of owning them, and three times more likely to experience homelessness because of the impact of racism in our housing and employment systems.
And COVID-19 has swept like wildfire through Oregon's Latinx and Hispanic community. Members of our Latinx community represent more than a third of the cases in the state while representing only 13% of the population. For some of our neighbors, this may be because of their employment as essential workers.
Our organizations' support for HB 4401 stemmed from our understanding of the importance of housing stability in all aspects of our lives, and our experience hearing from people who rent their homes across Oregon who were deeply worried about their housing stability.
We know that a safe and stable home is a basic human need. Particularly during this time, a place to stay home is a prescription for staying healthy, a place for kids to attend school, and a place to rest and recover.
We also know that now more than ever, preventing housing instability and homelessness is part of our work to combat the injustice of systemic racism in Oregon's housing market and protect people hardest hit by COVID-19.
All of us benefit when people exposed to or sick from COVID can stay home from work without fear. Recent studies have shown that evictions lead to increased risk of COVID, and increased community spread of the disease. Housing stability is critical to protecting our communities from the pandemic.
The package of bills passed in the special session also includes $150 million for a landlord compensation fund for landlords to help pay back rent, and $50 million in additional rental assistance through tenant applications.
It's important to understand that these eviction protections — which last until June 30 — are different. They are not automatic, and renters must take action to put them in place.
The protections apply only to those experiencing a financial hardship during the pandemic, and renters must provide a declaration of financial hardship to their landlords. This protects them from eviction and allows their landlord to seek payment for back rent from the new Landlord Compensation Fund.
More information for tenants, and a declaration form in English and Spanish can be found at oregonlawhelp.org.
More must be done to address the massive disparities in our state that COVID-19 both exacerbated and highlighted, but the work the Legislature has done to help Oregon families stay in their homes should be commended. And now, this work must continue.
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