Advocates for tenants and landlords disagree on the need for a special session of the Oregon legislature to give tenants more time to pay their rent.
PORTLAND, Oregon – Kim McCarty represents 6,000 low-income renters statewide. As executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, McCarty said his office receives hundreds of calls from tenants who have lost their benefits and still don’t have full-time jobs – now they’re afraid of ‘to be deported.
Tenants are afraid
As of Friday, 45,566 households had applied for rent assistance through the Oregon Emergency Rent Assistance Program (OERAP) – the $ 204 million program funded by the federal government and administered by Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS).
But the program, launched in May, has so far paid only 16,877 households, according to OHCS data.
Oregon’s statewide eviction moratorium expired in late June, but state lawmakers passed a bill providing a 60-day grace period for those who sought help – Multnomah County has extended this grace period to 90 days.
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According to the OHCS, more than 11,000 households are now out of the window of protection due to a backlog of applications. The state says it is prioritizing those who wait the longest.
McCarty fears that thousands of Oregonians may be deported.
âFrom the tenants’ point of view, we are in a crisis. Thousands of tenants do not have access to the emergency rental assistance that has been promised to them. And we don’t have a safety net in place, so people are scared. McCarty said.
Frustrated housing providers
Housing providers and landlords are also frustrated.
In some cases, housing providers have not received rent for 18 months. Deborah Imse is the Executive Director of Multifamily NW, a rental industry group representing a mix of large and small landlords and property managers.
She said providers don’t know how the rent assistance process works, where their tenants’ claims are and when they will be paid. She blames the OHCS and says the system is down.
âAfter months of extending the moratorium and safe zones, we can see that the problem is still not resolved by the agency. If we are to overcome this problem, we will need to have effective results at the agency level. “said Imse.
RELATED: Tenants Prepare for the Unknown as Eviction Moratorium Ends
McCarty and Imse were guests on this week’s episode of “Straight Talk”.
McCarty agreed that the public rent assistance application system is frustrating and needs to be simplified.
âTry to imagine, it’s a 27 page application. Much written above a 6th grade level. You need to provide some documentation and what if you don’t the right equipment to download this information? Worse, a lot Oregonians don’t even know help is available, âshe said.
OHCS: “We stay laser focused”
In response, Oregon Housing and Community Services said it was working hard to process claims and get payments. So far, the agency has paid more than $ 110 million in rent assistance to landlords on behalf of tenants and that payment rate has increased in recent weeks.
In a statement, an OHCS spokesperson told KGW:
âWe know time is running out for families in Oregon who are waiting for their rental assistance requests to be processed. We remain focused on preventing tenant eviction, especially as 60 or 90 day window protectors expire for older applications. Our work is paying off, as we are now ranked 6th in the country for state spending (previously 8th) as a percentage of Federal Emergency Rent Assistance (ERA) funds distributed, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “
But these numbers mean little to renters and landlords.
“There is only one metric that matters”
” While we [the state] Maybe doing well by this measure, I know tenants and they are not doing well, âsaid McCarty.
“There is only one measure that matters,” Imse said, “and that is whether or not this resident who suffers from housing instability has paid his rent.”
Imse said that because many of its members haven’t received rent for months, they face tough decisions. âThey spent 18 months in debt and now we’re in a place where they’re going to have to have an income or they are going to have to sell to pay their bills,â Imse said.
Since July, there have been 1,573 non-payment evictions filed in Oregon, according to data from the Oregon Law Center. But Imse noted that eviction requests remain well below pre-pandemic levels.
A special session?
House Speaker Tina Kotek has called for a special session of the Oregon legislature to prevent a wave of evictions.
In response to an article in The Oregonian, Kotek tweeted: “Nothing is more important than keeping people housed. The pandemic and the coming winter demand action now. We need a special session for lawmakers to fix this problem.”
But Imse and McCarty disagreed on the need for a special session.
McCarty and the Community Alliance of Tenants believe this is the only way forward. âBoth to give Oregon Housing and Community Services the tools they need to improve the process. [And] to pause evictions to find other safety nets for Oregonians, âshe said.
Imse stated that Multifamily NW and its members are not supporting a special session. She said the OHCS had already received tools and a lot of money, and policymakers had embraced tenant protection, but the issues were still unresolved.
âWe are really worried if there is a special session we will launch the box on the road and we will have the same conversation in March. We can’t legislate a solution to faulty software, we need agency-level solutions and accountability, “she said.
Impact on the homeless crisis
McCarty wants lawmakers to use a special session to pause evictions with another moratorium.
Otherwise, she thinks the homeless crisis could get worse.
“It doesn’t take much to make matters worse,” McCarty said, “our social service agencies are already at full capacity. We have no alternative. There is no plan B.”
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Imse acknowledged the seriousness of the homeless problem, but stressed that it was a problem before the pandemic. She called on lawmakers to address the lack of a safety net with a comprehensive statewide policy and fears that policies, like additional moratoria, will push homeowners out of the area and make the problem worse. lodging.
âWe need to stop taking advantage of housing providers because we already have a severe housing shortage in the state of Oregon. We don’t need to exacerbate the problem by taking housing providers out of the way. industry because they can no longer be there while they are in use, âshe said.
Tenants who need assistance can visit the Community Tenants Alliance website for assistance.
You can request emergency rental assistance here.
For people who have already received an eviction notice, they can call the Oregon Law Center at 888-585-9638.
Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 p.m.
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