Oregon Legislature to meet in emergency session as renters face evictions

·6 min read
Oregon Pioneer is seen on the top of the Capitol before the second special of the Oregon State Legislature at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Oregon, on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.
Oregon Pioneer is seen on the top of the Capitol before the second special of the Oregon State Legislature at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Oregon, on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.

The Oregon Legislature will meet in an emergency session Dec. 13 to consider measures to protect renters from eviction, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday.

About 13,000 renters are at imminent risk of eviction because they are beyond the state's “safe harbor” period for those who applied for help but haven’t gotten it due to processing backlogs, according to Oregon Housing and Community Services.

Thousands more have applied to the state for help but are still within the “safe harbor” period.

Oregon will stop accepting applications for emergency rental assistance Wednesday because the state believes it will have exhausted all federal funds by that date.

The framework for the one-day session includes the state providing an additional $190 million.

“We must take legislative action now to approve additional state funding for rental assistance,” Brown said in a written statement, “and to extend eviction protections for Oregonians who have applied for assistance.”

Expiring assistance

The state’s pandemic eviction moratorium expired in June, but the Legislature passed a bill earlier this year to provide renters 60 days of protection from eviction if they could prove to their landlord that they had applied to the state for rental help.

Renters in Multnomah County and in unincorporated Washington County have 90 days through local government actions.

But the state has been slow to get the money to individuals who apply for help, and the additional time hasn't been enough for many applicants.

According to Becky Straus, an attorney for the Oregon Law Center, there was an average of 66 evictions of tenants for not paying rent each month in January through June.

Assistance: Thousands in need of rental help are waiting for lawmakers to act

Straus said that has grown to an average of 453 per month since the moratorium expired in June, according to data compiled by the center.

“Month after month, what we have seen is just under 40% of non-payment cases reaching eviction court are ending in preventable and unfavorable outcomes for tenants,” Straus told lawmakers in a hearing Nov. 17.

“These displacements are heartbreaking on an individual level because of the hardship that eviction imposes on a family in the short term,” Straus said. “And the displacements are heartbreaking at a policy level because they’re preventable. Legislative action can stop them.”

Michael Bouchard of Salem waited nearly five months for the state to pay him emergency rental assistance. He received it in October 2021.
Michael Bouchard of Salem waited nearly five months for the state to pay him emergency rental assistance. He received it in October 2021.

In September, Oregon Housing and Community Services revealed about 11,900 people in the state were at risk of eviction because they were past the 60- and 90-day safe harbor protections.

Since then, more people have applied for help and the number at risk of eviction was estimated at 13,000 as of Nov. 17.

As of Nov. 24, a total of about 19,800 people in Oregon had completed applications for rental assistance, but have yet to be paid.

“We can take action in a special session to ensure this doesn’t happen and that we keep our promise to Oregonians,” Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner and House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner said in a joint statement. “No one should lose their housing because of administrative delays.”

The backlog is larger in the state’s most populous areas.

Rental assistance: Time has run out to prevent evictions for tens of thousands in Oregon

In Marion County, about 1,200 people have applied for help but are beyond the 60-day protections, and in Lane County, about 260 are.

Money has run out

Renters had already requested the entire $289 million the state has been allocated for rental help through a federal program.

OHCS executive director Margaret Salazar said the state will close its rental assistance portal for at least six weeks, but that was prior to the call for the special se.

The U.S. Department of Treasury said Monday that Oregon, New York and Texas had the most success in obligating and distributing federal rental assistance.

The state has asked for additional federal money, according to Brown's statement.

Though the state portal is closing at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, Marion, Lane, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties – as well as the city of Portland – were given separate pools of money from the federal government for the program and renters in those counties can still get money from them.

But by the state program stopping taking applications, tens of thousands in Oregon counties including Polk are out of luck unless the Legislature passes something in its one-day session.

“It’s imperative that the Legislature steps in to ensure that people who have pending applications for assistance are protected while the applications are pending,” Sybil Hebb, director of legislative advocacy for the Oregon Law Center, said.

Brown's suggested plan

For weeks, lawmakers have been discussing potential solutions with industry and tenant advocates.

Brown is proposing a “framework” to prevent more evictions:

  • Extending the safe harbor protections for each person who has applied for rental help, though no timeframe for how long of an extension was given.

  • Ensuring landlords are paid “in full for the rent they are owed.”

  • Up to $90 million in money to help tenants pay rent.

  • $100 million to “transition from large-scale pandemic-related emergency rental assistance to long-term, locally-delivered eviction prevention services.”

A spokesperson for Brown said the long-term solutions for eviction prevention services could include short-term rental assistance and court-based eviction diversion such as the one Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency currently does in Marion and Polk counties.

Advocates and lawmakers had mixed feelings about the announced session.

"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," Stable Homes for Oregon Families, a tenant advocacy group, said in a statement.

Deborah Imse, executive director of Multifamily NW, an advocacy group of renters, housing providers and governments, said the state should focus on fixing the issues.

“The state has refused to accept any accountability for the mismanagement of this program and we simply cannot support a special session that will delay disbursement of promised funds yet again," she said. "The state needs to uphold their end of the deal and cut the checks to Oregonians in need.”

The Governor's Office said legislators may also be asked to take on additional "time-sensitive" issues during the special session.

“That’s two weeks from today,” Senate President Peter Courtney said in a statement. “Special sessions are the most difficult of all sessions. Everything must be carefully planned. We have a lot of work to do. I hope we will be ready.”

Bill Poehler covers Marion County for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at bpoehler@statesmanjournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler

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Claire Withycombe is a reporter at the Statesman Journal. Contact her at cwithycombe@statesmanjournal.com, 503-910-3821 or follow on Twitter @kcwithycombe.

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This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Oregon Legislature to hold emergency session as renters face evictions

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