Today, after months of delay, Gov. Kate Brown announced a special session on Dec. 13 to address evictions.
Her office released a statement detailing Brown’s proposals, and among them were extending the safe harbor for anyone who applied for assistance and adding up to $90 million in assistance for low-income renters.
“As we enter our coldest months, it is absolutely essential that we take action to ensure no additional Oregon families are evicted when rental assistance is on the way,” Brown said in a statement. “We must take legislative action now to approve additional state funding for rental assistance, and to extend eviction protections for Oregonians who have applied for assistance.”
Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor, says Brown’s goal “is for any extension of safe harbor protections to be robust enough to ensure no one is evicted while they are waiting for an emergency rental assistance application to be processed.”
Earlier this month, the state announced it would stop accepting applications for emergency rental assistance for six weeks starting just shy of midnight on Dec. 1 because all of the available funding had been requested already.
That freeze starts tomorrow and will last until mid-January. Renters can still apply for local assistance, for instance, from Multnomah County’s emergency rental funds.
“We are concerned. This pause is exactly why the governor needs to call a special session,” says Becky Straus with the Oregon Law Center. “Pausing the rental assistance Portland doesn’t mean the need for rent assistance paused too. The need remains high. No one who applies for assistance should be evicted.”
Oregon Housing and Community Services, the state agency running the rental assistance program, has struggled to keep up with applications since the program opened up in late May.
So far, $378 million in rental assistance has been requested from the state’s program. That number counts only dollars requested on completed applications, not incomplete applications.
However, on the agency’s dashboard, a message sheds doubt on the validity of that number, and the number of completed applications received, which is now at 50,945. The note reads: “This number has seen a significant increase in the last few weeks and OHCS is further investigating some changes to this number as well as the total number of completed applications. Expect this number to shift as OHCS continues to investigate these applications for validity.”
The agency tells WW that “OHCS, and other states around the country, are detecting an increased number of suspicious online applications. At this time, we believe that we caught the majority of suspicious applications.”
Agency officials think they’re a shoo-in for additional dollars from the U.S Treasury because of the speed at which they’re processing applications, which, despite its slowness, is faster than most other states’ progress.
“We are working with the U.S. Treasury to determine whether the reallocation will happen, and how much funding the state will receive,” OHCS spokeswoman Delia Hernandez says. “The [U.S Treasury] said it could take until spring to reallocate funding. We are in active dialogue and we hope to get additional clarity during the pause.”
Over the past several months the state has relied more heavily on a third-party contractor to process applications, promising the processing speed would pick up.
Latest numbers provided by the agency show that 39% of submitted applications to the state are still under review. In Multnomah County, 44% are still under review, totaling 7,847 applications.
Multifamily NW executive director Deborah Imse expressed frustration over the special session, arguing that landlords cannot survive another extension of safe harbor protections. “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,” Imse said. “The state needs to uphold their end of the deal and cut the checks to Oregonians in need.”
Shortly after Brown’s announcement, Senate President Peter Courtney expressed skepticism: “That’s two weeks from today. 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.”