Oregon Hires Outside Help to Process Backlog of Rental Assistance Applications

On Aug. 4, the state’s agency that handles rental assistance announced it was hiring on a third-party contractor to help get money into the hands of landlords quicker.

After intense alarm on Capitol Hill, lawmakers on Tuesday extended the federal moratorium on evictions on Oct. 3. It expired just three days ago, on July 31.

Meanwhile, Oregon state officials are hiring outside help to more swiftly deliver rent assistance to landlords on behalf of tenants who can’t make monthly payments.

Governments have provided several layers of protection to people at risk of eviction after losing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Oregon’s eviction moratorium expired on June 30, but renters who were at risk of eviction for nonpayment could then get federal protection from evictions if they signed the federal financial hardship form and met the eligibility requirements.

Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, a spokesperson for Multnomah County, said on Aug. 3 of the federal extension: “Our attorneys are reviewing today’s order and determining what it means for our county.”

State legislators passed several measures earlier this year to give leeway to renters who are awaiting rent assistance. The delivery of those checks has been backed up for months.

Senate Bill 278 allows for tenants to postpone an eviction for nonpayment for an additional 60 days so long as they prove they’ve applied for rental assistance. In early July, Multnomah County commissioners tacked on another 30 days to that extension.

And in May, Oregon legislators granted tenants who owe back rent until February of next year to repay it without fear of eviction.

In late June, just before the state’s moratorium expired, Kim McCarty, executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, told WW that Oregon’s social safety net is unprepared to handle even a fraction of the 80,000 people who owe back rent. She said that if landlords quickly regain the ability to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent, the result would be a statewide “meltdown.”

She said nonprofits in Multnomah County are already overburdened assisting just 4,000 homeless people—so the idea of multiplying that by 20 across the state is unfathomable to her.

On Aug. 4, the state’s agency that handles rental assistance announced it was hiring a third-party contractor to help get money into the hands of landlords quicker by staffing local agencies that have been tasked with processing and approving applications and getting money to landlords.

The third party vendor, the Oregon Housing and Community announced, would be brought on to help complete and process applications that weren’t yet processed.

“OHCS has expanded to bring on an additional 63 staff and contractors to process applications and help tenants finalize their incomplete applications. The agency is currently working with a vendor to more than double that number. This unprecedented move will ensure applications are processed as quickly as possible and will provide much needed support to local administrators and the Oregonians they serve,” the release read.

WW has inquired how much the agency will spend on outside staffing.