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Gubernatorial Candidate Tobias Read, the State’s Treasurer, Criticizes Legislature, Governor on Rent Relief

It represents an early attempt to draw a distinction from House Speaker Tina Kotek, also a candidate for governor.

Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read, now a candidate for governor, criticized the Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown last week over the state’s failure to get pandemic rent-relief checks in the hands of tenants.

The criticism leveled at the Legislature is notable. (The executive branch’s role in distributing checks is more apparent.) It appeared to be a first, key effort by Read to draw a distinction between himself and another top gubernatorial candidate, House Speaker Tina Kotek, who called for a special session earlier this month to extend tenant protections.

“Thousands of Oregonians are in danger of eviction because the legislature and governor haven’t been able to ensure that their rent relief payments are processed quickly,” said Read in a statement. “The money is there. This is not a lack of resources, it’s about priorities. This rolling crisis has been going on for nearly a year—and yet the Legislature and the governor are still unable to address this urgent demand.”

The current problem is in a state agency called Oregon Housing and Community Services, which has failed to process requests for rent relief within the 60 days’ safe harbor set up by legislation passed in June.

Kotek’s office responded with a sharp critique of Read.

“Speaker Kotek called for a special session a week ago because it was clear that is the only way to fix the problem,” says spokesman Danny Moran. “Even after various interventions, state and local partners are unable to meet the safe harbor timeline initially requested by the agency. Legislators are actively engaged with small landlords and tenant advocate groups to craft a solution that will help Oregonians who are facing eviction. Press statements don’t solve problems.”

Read does favor extending the moratorium, he says. But Read’s statement argued for accountability—while trying to steer clear of the fight that’s under way that pits tenants against landlords.

Tenants, along with many other advocacy groups, local jurisdictions and agencies, want a special session, as Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

But several of them also see reason to fault lawmakers for how the tenant protections were crafted.

Notably, a leading renters’ rights group, the Community Alliance of Tenants, never favored the original bill that included a 60-day safe harbor.

“Preventing a wave of evictions that displace people from their homes requires centering tenants in our policy by prohibiting evictions until the pandemic is ended and all available funds for rental relief are expended,” says Kim McCarty, executive director of CAT. “The Community Alliance of Tenants did not support the 60-day model adopted by the Legislature because it was clear the system would not be able to process applications for rent relief in that time frame.”

Landlords aren’t convinced more lawmaking will help. The Oregon Association of Realtors does not want a special session, though the real estate group does see a reason to fault the Legislature, which has “a critical role in the oversight of state agencies,” says lobbyist Shaun Jillions, adding that the failure to get the checks out “falls squarely in their lap as well.”

Contacted by WW, the governor’s office declined to weigh in.

“Generally speaking, our office is not going to comment on statements issued by candidates for office,” says Brown spokesman Charles Boyle.

That’s a notable silence for a governor with record low polling numbers, and whose track record will likely continue to be a key issue in the campaign over the next year.

“We need leadership from Salem that views this problem as the crisis it is and takes action to fix it, and not just an administrative hassle to kick down the road with another special session marked by arguing politicians, all while people continue to suffer,” said Read in his statement.