Oregon lawmakers will take up a proposal to extend the state's residential eviction moratorium and create an assistance fund to help landlords during a committee meeting Monday morning.
The proposal calls for lawmakers to extend the state's eviction moratorium through the end of June and allocate $100 million of general fund money to existing rental assistance programs and a new fund for landlords whose tenants have fallen behind on rent.
The state's current eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of the year, but Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has called for Gov. Kate Brown to call a special session in December where the Legislature could address the moratorium.
"We absolutely need to take action before the end of the year," said Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, the chair of the Oregon House of Representatives' Interim Committee on Housing.
The new moratorium would prevent a possible cascade of evictions at the start of the New Year.
Under current state law, tenants have until March 31 to pay back rent accumulated between April 1 and Sept. 30 of this year, but must pay back rent accumulated in the final three months of the year on Jan. 1. Requirements may be different in counties and cities that have adopted their own eviction moratoriums.
The new proposal would extend the moratorium until June 30 and require tenants to pay back all accumulated rent on July 1. Fahey said the new deadline would give families and children certainty and stability through the school year.
Unlike the sweeping eviction moratorium that the Legislature enacted in June, the new proposal would require tenants to show they have experienced financial hardship since the start of the coronavirus pandemic to receive protections. The previous moratorium did not require tenants to prove they were experiencing hardship.
According to Fahey, tenants would have to sign a declaration attesting under penalty of perjury that they have experienced financial hardship since March 2020 to qualify for eviction protections. Qualifying hardships would include substantial loss of household income, substantial medical expenses, loss of work, increased caregiving responsibilities or costs or other circumstances that have led to substantially reduced income or increased expenses.
Tenants who owe back rent but don't meet the hardship requirement would have until March 31 to make up their missed payments under the proposed law.
But Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, a real estate broker and landlord himself who is also a vice-chair on the committee taking up the proposal, said the current hardship requirement was too broad and that tenants should be required to declare that they have lost income due to the pandemic and don't have resources to keep up with their rent to qualify for protections. He said he disagreed with a stipulation in the current proposal that would allow tenants impacted by the wildfires to qualify for protections because those tenants already have access to federal disaster aid.
"(The proposal) still needs a lot of work," Meek said. "I don't think there's going to be consensus on the initial draft as presented. I think we'll probably have a robust discussion on that on Monday."
Alison McIntosh, the policy and communications director for Neighborhood Partnerships, which convenes the Oregon Housing Alliance, said that she worried that the declaration would add a complicating layer for some tenants, especially those that don't speak English. Still, she said the proposal was an important compromise to ensure that renters are able to stay in their homes.
"This pandemic has taught all of us how important it is to have a safe and stable place to call home," McIntosh said. "Making sure that folks who rent their homes don't face housing instability, particularly in January when winter is at its worst, is really critical. We know that Oregon renters, particularly people of color have been really hard hit by COVID and the eviction moratorium has really helped people stay in their homes."
Other language in the proposal will likely be looked at closely Monday, including an approach that would amend state law to require landlords to give tenants more than two-weeks' notice before initiating an eviction. Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, a co-chair on the committee taking up the proposal, said he worried about any proposal that would rewrite tenant-landlord law.
Along with extending the eviction moratorium, the proposal would also set up a fund to allow landlords to apply for rent assistance through Oregon Housing and Community Services on behalf of tenants who owe rent, with priority going to smaller landlords and those that are owned a higher percentage of unpaid rent. Landlords that apply for assistance through the fund would only be given assistance to make up for missed rental payments and would be required to forgive 20% of past-due rent.
Kotek has proposed setting aside $100 million in general fund money to go to existing rental assistance programs and the new fund, but lawmakers acknowledge that the money won't be close to enough to meet the needs of tenants and landlords. The Portland Housing Bureau estimated that Portland renters alone had missed over $120 million in rental payments by the end of September.
Deborah Imse, executive director for Multifamily NW, a rental industry group whose members include landlords and property managers, said that many landlords will not be able to withstand another six months without income and encouraged legislators to find a resolution that equitably addressed the vulnerabilities of both landlords and tenants.
"The proposal simply won't work without adequate emergency rental assistance; it only pushes the problem out another six months and deepens the financial stress for both tenants and housing providers," said Imse in a statement. "Rather than implementing additional confusing rules that further strain the relationship between providers and renters, Oregon should focus our efforts on helping those facing eviction to access the rental assistance that is available."
Fahey acknowledged that additional assistance is needed to provide stability to both landlords and tenants. But she said that money will likely need to come from the federal government and expressed disappointment that Congress has yet to pass another coronavirus relief bill.
"Not just on the housing front, but on every front, we really need the federal government to take action," Fahey said. "States are required to balance their budget and we don't have the resources needed at the state level to meet all of the needs associated with the public health aspects of the pandemic and the financial implications as well."
- Jamie Goldberg, The Oregonian