Gov. Kate Brown has signed a bill that gives tenants more time to pay past-due rent stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and protects their future ability to rent.
Her announcement, issued Wednesday, May 19, also mentioned the availability of $204 million in a state fund for rental assistance.
"Everyone deserves a warm, safe, dry place to call home –– and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been particularly critical that Oregonians be able to stay in their homes. I'd like to thank Sen. Kayse Jama and Rep. Julie Fahey for their leadership and work to pass this bill, and ensure that we are helping the Oregonians who have been hardest hit by the housing and rent impacts of the pandemic.
"Senate Bill 282 gives the Oregonians hardest hit by economic impacts during the pandemic more time to recover and, thanks to a historic amount of rent assistance in Oregon, we have the resources to help those families get back on stable financial footing."
Tosha Morgan-Platt — who lives in Portland with three children, one of them with disabilities — was among the tenants who submitted testimony in favor of the bill. She lost her job during the economic downturn that resulted from the pandemic more than a year ago, and subsequent work has not helped her earn enough to eliminate $3,000 in past-due rent.
The bill allows Morgan-Platt and others an extended grace period until Feb. 28, 2022 — instead of June 30 — to pay past-due rent going back to April 1, 2020. It does not forgive any rent, and it requires renters to be current on payments after July 1. But it would extend until Feb. 28, 2022, a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent during the pandemic.
"This is a huge weight off my shoulders and will give me or my landlord enough time to apply for rental assistance to cover the back rent," Morgan-Platt said in a statement furnished by Stable Homes for Oregon Families. "There are so many Oregonians in similar situations who lost jobs or income during COVID through no fault of our own and are still struggling to catch up. As Oregon continues to face a statewide housing crisis and our communities are suffering, SB 282 is going to be a lifeline to protect us from eviction."
The House passed it without amendment on May 11 by a 39-17 vote.
Fahey, a Democrat from Eugene and chairwoman of the House Committee on Housing, said the bill banks on millions coming in state and federal aid to tenants and landlords.
"It is a reasonable compromise bill that sets the stage for a more equitable recovery," Fahey, the bill's floor manager and chief sponsor in the House, said. "By passing this bill, we can ensure that Oregon tenants and landlords can get the full benefit of rental assistance coming to our state and help prevent the fallout from the pandemic following the most vulnerable Oregonians for years to come."
A Dec. 21 special session of the Legislature extended the evictions moratorium from Dec. 30 to June 30, and also set aside a total of $200 million for assistance — $150 million for landlords and $50 million for tenants. The Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services reported to the House committee on May 4 that $40 million was paid from the landlord compensation fund in the first round in March.
Congress also passed two rounds of federal assistance for renters, the latest round approved in March. Oregon's senators announced May 10 that the state will be in line for $222.5 million from President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan, which became law in March. The state would get $156.5 million, Portland, $15.5 million; Multnomah County, $3.8 million, Washington County, $14.2 million, and Clackamas County, $9.9 million. Other amounts will go to the counties that include Eugene, Salem and Medford.
"The policies we passed last year have likely prevented many thousands of people from being evicted from their homes during the pandemic," Fahey said. "Because we know that public health research has shown that eviction moratoriums helped prevent the spread of COVID-19, we know that in addition to keeping people stably housed, those policies have saved lives."
Among other provisions of SB 282, which was brokered by Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, with tenant and landlord advocates:
• Potential landlords would be barred from screening out applicants based on COVID-era evictions. The bill would allow sealing of evictions during COVID from a tenant's record.
• Credit history reports would be barred on any late payments during the moratorium. Landlords would be barred from screening out tenants based on nonpayment of past-due rents during the eviction moratorium and grace period.
• Landlords could not evict tenants for doubling-up/occupancy limits that are narrower than current law, during the COVID period when people have had to share housing due to the pandemic and wildfires.
• Increased damages would remain in effect temporarily for retaliation violations by landlords during the COVID era.
All of the votes against the final version were cast by Republicans, although three Republicans joined Democrats to vote for it.
"This bill has another side that has not been given any consideration," Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford, said.
A move by Republicans to send the bill back to committee failed on a party-line vote.
Rep. Jack Zika of Redmond, said he sought an amendment that would have allowed landlords to check some tenant records unrelated to finances. He said his intent was not to block the bill itself, and that he felt an agreement was close.
"Nobody wants to see anybody evicted," he said.
Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, says that as a case manager, she works with prospective tenants to help them apply for rental housing.
"I know there are backstops in place for checking on the past rental history of tenants," she said.
'What I do know, from doing the work I do, is that if we do not pass this, it will cause harm to our communities. We all know that bad actors exist, but I also know that folks want to be able to pay their rent so they can stay in housing."
NOTE: Updates with governor signing this bill.
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