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Regional Interests

Oregon’s eviction moratorium will expire next week. Here’s what that means for Oregon tenants an

For over a year, Oregon’s eviction moratorium has ensured renters burdened financially by the pandemic can remain in their homes. At the end of June, those protections will disappear for good.

As the state emerges from the pandemic and some people return to work, lawmakers have decided to let the state’s eviction moratorium lapse. This means, for the first time since March 2020, Oregon tenants will be expected to pay next month’s rent — regardless of whether or not they can afford it.

Those who can’t pay risk losing their homes.

The looming expiration has brought a host of new questions to the forefront as tenants and landlords contend with the deadline, and local agencies scramble to get millions of dollars in rent assistance out the door.

Here are three common questions about what to expect June 30 with answers from Oregon advocates, attorneys and housing officials.

I’m a tenant who hasn’t been able to pay full rent since the pandemic started. How much will I owe when the moratorium ends on June 30?

This July, Oregon renters only need to pay July 2021 rent. Tenants don’t yet need to pay the rent they missed earlier in the pandemic. In May, the state passed a rule that gave tenants until the end of February 2022 to pay rent that’s past due.

And it’s possible that some tenants won’t need to pay anything yet. The state Legislature, which is legally required to adjourn by June 28, is considering a bill that would protect tenants who are waiting for rental assistance money from the state. State and local agencies have been slow to distribute the money, and some lawmakers want to ensure no tenant is evicted for not paying while their application for rent money winds its way through the system.

Last week, the Oregon House of Representatives passed SB 278, which would give tenants who had applied for rental assistance an additional two months of protection from eviction. If the renter provided proof they had applied for rent assistance, a landlord would need to wait 60 days before filing for eviction. The Oregon Senate is expected to consider the bill Tuesday.

Some landlords and conservative lawmakers had originally pushed back against the rule, saying it boils down to an extension of the eviction moratorium, further depriving landlords who have not received rent payments for months.

But the rule ultimately passed in the House with unanimous support from lawmakers after changes that ensured landlords could be paid for some missed rent from a third-party fund. The hope is that this new fund would be quicker in getting money out of the door and not experience the same delays that have plagued overwhelmed state and local agencies.

Officials from both Portland and Multnomah County said they’re tracking the bill closely and fully support it. The county, which in the past has implemented additional protections for county renters when they felt the state fell short, said it has no plans to do so this time around.

“We want a state solution to a statewide issue,” said county spokesperson Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.

Sullivan-Springhetti said the county is focused on helping renters after the moratorium ends, putting resources aside for rent assistance, eviction prevention and legal aid.

I keep hearing about a tidal wave of evictions looming when the moratorium ends. Is that what’s coming on July 1?

That depends who you ask.

Ron Garcia, the head of Rental Housing Alliance Oregon, said he feels there’s a fair bit of hyperbole in the way the July evictions are being portrayed in the media.

Garcia said part of the reason he’s skeptical that there will be a massive uptick in evictions is due to the legislation passed last month, which gave tenants an extra eight months to pay back rent. But he said there is another reason he doesn’t anticipate that landlords will be rushing to evict tenants: landlords won’t be able to access most of the rental assistance money if they don’t have a tenant.

“I read a lot of articles talking about this ‘massive eviction event’ that’s painted as if a lot of people are going to be thrown out on the streets, and I just do not believe that’s going to happen,” he said.

Tenant advocates disagree. With many businesses still shuttered and some workers hesitant to return, some say they expect there will be tens of thousands of tenants who struggle to come up with July rent.

Kim McCarty, the head of the Community Alliance of Tenants, said the group estimates there could be as many as 90,000 Oregonians who will not have enough money to pay July rent and could be evicted.

Portland-based tenant attorney Troy Pickard said, while he’s not expecting an “unmitigated tsunami” of evictions, he’s still anticipating a significant uptick.

Pickard said he was frustrated with the piecemeal way the Legislature had handled the moratorium, scrapping old deadlines and creating new ones every few months. Not only did it give tenants and landlords little in the way of certainty, but he said it also had a perverse end result: the most vulnerable tenants in July could be the ones that have been diligently making rent payments all along.

Pickard said many tenants strained during the pandemic to pay as much rent as they could to their landlords. Some of these tenants may now have little left to pay July rent and face evictions. On the other hand, a tenant who could have made a partial payment to their landlord, but chose not to, need only come up with July rent and be spared eviction.

“In a way it’s punishing the most responsible tenants and rewarding the least responsible tenants,” said Pickard. “If you’ve been struggling during the pandemic, but you’ve still by hook or by crook made all of your rent payments up until now and then in July your luck runs out and you can’t make that July payment, you’re screwed.”

How much rental assistance has been dispensed to people so far?

Nowhere near enough to meet the need.

Margaret Salazar, the head of Oregon Housing and Community Services, told lawmakers last week that local agencies tasked with approving applications for rent assistance had been overwhelmed with a “crushing level of need.” She cited one local agency which, before COVID, was helping 800 households each year. They now aim to help that many households each month.

She said the agencies needed more time to get all the money out the door before landlords started filing for evictions.

“There is a fundamental mismatch between the arbitrary date of July 1st and the ability to effectively promote rental assistance programs and process applications,” she wrote in a letter urging lawmakers to pass SB 278. “Renters and local organizations need time.”

It’s not just the overwhelming need that has caused the backlog. Lawmakers say technical glitches and unclear guidance from the federal government on how the rent assistance should be distributed among Oregonians has also contributed to the slowdown.

Connor McDonnell, an Oregon Housing and Community Services spokesperson, said the state has helped roughly 43,000 households with rent assistance through three programs since the start of the pandemic. So far, it has distributed upwards of $186 million.

That’s about one-third of what is available. McDonnell said there is an additional $423 million in rental assistance the state says needs to be distributed (that includes $155 million from the U.S. Treasury the state is expecting but has yet to receive.)

Landlord and tenant advocates who have been watching the money go out the door are in agreement on one point: the system is moving too slowly.

“The bottom line is that it’s a mess,” said Garcia with Rental Housing Alliance Oregon. “We’ve had a year and half of no rent, and landlords have had to fund this entire crisis with their bank accounts.”

McCarty with the Community Alliance of Tenants is advocating for a full extension of the eviction moratorium. She said the current setup “is not in sync with the need or with the speed with which it needs to move all the money.”

While she supports giving tenants extra protection — as SB 278 would do — McCarty said she’s not convinced the local agencies will be able to get the rent assistance to tenants even if given an extra two months.

“Frankly that’s always been the problem, all year, is that we set these arbitrary deadlines,” she said.

Oregon tenants who need help paying rent can find assistance here. Multnomah County residents can also apply for assistance here.

Oregon landlords can also apply for assistance from the state’s Landlord Compensation Fund. Landlords have until midnight on Wednesday, June 23, to apply for help.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting