Oregon Sending All Future Emergency Rent Aid Applications to Out-Of-State Contractor

That worries the lobbyist who represents all the local program administrators.

Oregon state officials will soon be removing the local nonprofits who have processed a majority of the $170 million in Emergency Rental Assistance Program sent to landlords over the past seven months from processing any more applications.

The decision was announced in October, but received little notice. In an email this week, a lobbyist for the local nonprofits begged state lawmakers to reconsider—days before a special session of the Oregon Legislature to address evictions.

Since May, when the state program opened up, those local action agencies have bemoaned glitchy state software called Allita 360 for the backlog of applications, many whose intended recipients have lost their 60 or 90 days safe harbor from eviction because the money didn’t arrive in time. (November’s numbers show that at one point, 13,000 applicants were past their safe harbor).

The state agency handling rental assistance, called Oregon and Housing Community Services, has in turn expressed frustration with the pace of those local agencies getting dollars to landlords.

OHCS has already started processing round two of the federal funds. But once local program administrators have run their round one funds dry, they’ll be processing no round two funds.

Instead, all future OERAP applications will be processed by the state’s out-of state contractor, Public Partnerships, LLC.

PPL is the Massachusetts-based contractor that OHCS brought on this spring to take on a portion of the applications. State officials have increasingly given PPL more responsibility for processing applications over the summer and fall months.

Any outstanding OERAP applications the local administrators have after their funds run out will also be transferred to the third-party contractor.

OHCS spokeswoman Delia Hernandez tells WW the centralization of all applications is “a result of lessons learned from [round one]”, and say that the local program administrators will “be able to focus on conducting outreach and engagement in the communities they know best and supporting renters in applying for emergency rental assistance programs with available funding.”

But in a Dec. 6 email to Sen. Kayse Jama and Rep. Julie Fahey, the community action agencies’ lobbyist Paul Rainey said state officials were making a mistake. That email was shared with WW.

“We wanted to share our concerns with the current guidance and direction being taken by OHCS on ERA,” Rainey wrote. “Given the urgency to help struggling families in local communities and growing applications for assistance, we do not believe that reducing capacity is the right solution to expedite rental assistance.”

Data supplied by OHCS offers a breakdown of what portion of applications have been processed by PPL versus by local administrators since the spring.

As of Nov. 24, 57.1% of local administrator’s applications had been paid out out of a total 28,252. PPL, the state’s contractor, had paid out just 26.5% of its total 22,693 applications.

The week beginning Nov. 17, PPL paid out 609 applications, and local administrators paid out 557 applications.

OHCS says it will continue to increase its PPL staffing in preparation for funneling all future applications to PPL.

OHCS announced last month that the agency and its local administrators would stop accepting OERAP applications for six weeks starting Dec. 1 because all the funding available to the state so far had been requested. The state is requesting more funding from the U.S. Treasury, but is unlikely to arrive until spring if the state does, indeed, get additional funds.

And on Nov. 30, Gov. Kate Brown announced a special legislative session on Dec. 13 to address evictions and help those who have run out of their safe harbors because their applications haven’t been processed quickly enough.