Legislative Chairs Request Audit of State Agency Handling Renter Aid

The Dec. 13 letter was sent on the first day of the special session to address evictions and the ongoing struggle to pay out rental assistance dollars.

Amid a special legislative session held today to address evictions and rental assistance woes in Oregon, the chairs of the housing committees in the Oregon House and Senate are asking for an audit of the state agency tasked with overseeing the emergency rental assistance program.

Sen. Kayse Jama and Rep. Julie Fahey wrote to Secretary of State Shemia Fagan on Dec. 13, requesting an audit of Oregon Housing and Community Services, its local partners, and the third-party Massachusetts contractor it hired, which have all been tasked with distributing rental assistance dollars to tenants and landlords since May.

“We remain deeply troubled by the inconsistent results across counties, by technical difficulties with the Allita software, by what appears to be a lack of clear communication to renters and landlords, and above all, by the fact that more than 8,000 Oregonians are facing eviction at the time of our December special session because their application process has exceeded the statutory safe harbor period,” the two chairs wrote.

Last week, WW reported that community action agencies, which helped process the first round of federal dollars for the state, will not be involved once round one funds are spent. Instead, Public Partnerships LLC, the out-of-state contractor the state hired to process applications, will be handling all future applications.

The state has struggled to get rental assistance out in a timely fashion, resulting in 8,000 Oregon renters now in danger of eviction because they’ve passed their safe harbor period.

The Legislature convened today to discuss plans to extend safe harbor protections for renters, infuse $100 million into the emergency rental funds, and put more funding toward eviction prevention efforts.

The letter from Fahey and Jama comes just days after Rep. Christine Drazan (R-Canby) called on the state to fire the director of OHCS, Margaret Salazar: “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,” Drazan wrote.

Jama and Fahey are asking for a more thorough process to dissect OHCS’s rollout of the program.

“As a state, we have an obligation to hold agencies accountable for how they implement programs and deliver services—especially when implementation problems could lead to such a potentially tragic result for so many Oregonians,” the chairs wrote. “The first step in that process is a formal performance audit that will uncover any missteps so that we can prevent challenges like this in the future and better serve Oregonians in need.”

OHCS did not immediately respond to WW’s request for comment.