What’s at Stake as Legislators Take Up Eviction Protections for Renters Seeking Assistance

Also under consideration: $215 million toward preventing further evictions.

Oregon lawmakers are expected to meet in a special session Dec. 13 to address an ongoing failure to get pandemic rental assistance out to tenants who have applied for aid and could face still face eviction.

Legislators are considering whether to extend the amount of time tenants would be protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent.

That’s because getting the money out the door is taking longer than the “safe harbor” from eviction previously set by legislators—which is 60 days statewide (and 90 days in Multnomah County and much of Washington County, where protections were extended further).

Landlords have filed evictions for nonpayment of rent against 2,284 tenants in Oregon since the statewide pandemic eviction moratorium was lifted, according to Oregon Law Center data, submitted as part of testimony for a Saturday hearing. The state estimates more than 8,000 renters submitted their applications more than 60 or 90 days ago (depending on their county) and therefore fell outside safe harbor as of Dec. 9.

The legislative concept under discussion tomorrow would extend the eviction moratorium for renters who apply for assistance before June 30 of next year, giving them safe harbor until their applications are complete (one way or another) up through Oct. 1, 2022.

A debate over how to address the state’s failure to get rental assistance out to tenants has been brewing for months. Tenants and Democrats have been pushing for an extension, while landlord groups and Republicans highlight the failure of Oregon Housing and Community Services to get checks out to tenants.

A press release from Gov. Kate Brown said the special session agenda reflected “priorities lawmakers have agreed to address,” suggesting she expects Republicans are going to show up. (That’s a question hanging over all Salem sessions after Republicans have made repeated use of their remaining leverage to deny a quorum.)

Also under consideration during the special session: $215 million for further rent relief ($100 million of which is for a landlord compensation fund), $100 million in drought relief, $25 million to address illegal cannabis operations, and $18 million for Afghan refugee resettlement.

The special session takes on added political significance as three leading candidates for governor next year are members of the Legislature, including House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), Rep. Christine Drazan (R-Canby) and state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who intends to run as an unaffiliated candidate.

“We have a proposal before us to keep thousands of Oregonians from losing their housing while rental assistance is on the way,” said Kotek in a Dec. 10 statement. “I applaud the two legislative housing chairs—Rep. Julie Fahey and Sen. Kayse Jama—for their ongoing work to address this crisis. Next week, we must honor our commitment to keep Oregonians housed.”

Kotek has championed the need for a special session for months.

Both Johnson and Drazan previously expressed opposition to a special session focused on rental relief, and Drazan last week called for Brown to fire the director of OHCS.

“The rollout and implementation of this much-needed program has been grossly inadequate for struggling renters and landlords alike, who were promised relief but instead have been expected to wait patiently while the bills pile up,” said Rep. Drazan in a Dec. 10 statement. “Even today, thousands of promised checks have yet to be delivered. Oregonians should not have to keep waiting while this agency continues to underperform and put stable housing at risk. It is time for Gov. Brown to take responsibility for this failure and appoint new leadership within the agency instead of simply throwing millions more taxpayer dollars at the program and expecting different results.”

There was no immediate response from the governor’s office.

OHCS continues to highlight the fact that Oregon is doing better than most other states in paying out (or at least “obligating”) the rental assistance to tenants: Oregon currently ranks sixth, according to the nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition.