Researchers say mass evictions may cost Oregon billions

Civic Affairs

PSU's Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative estimates as much as evictions may cost as much as $4.7 billion, as many as 125,000 households may face evictions

FILE: Eviction notice document (Getty Images).

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The state’s pandemic-inspired eviction moratorium is coming to an end this week, which researchers at Portland State University’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative warn may lead to millions of dollars–or even billions of dollars–in government loses as well as potentially tens of thousands of Oregonians or more being left without homes.

The new report from HRAC, released Monday, estimates between 59,400 to 125,400 Oregon households are at risk of eviction when the state moratorium ends June 30 and may cost the state between $720 million and $4.7 billion.

The report estimates were calculated before the federal eviction moratorium extension through the end of July was passed and before the passage of a state bill that will give renters who can show they have applied for rental assistance 60 days before their landlord can file for eviction.

However, the authors say whether the eviction ban lifts in July or August, it will likely leave tens of thousands of Oregonians without homes. 

“These limited protections only cover some of those facing possible eviction. The scale of the potential cost will likely remain the same. The report recommends extending the full statewide moratorium to allow time for all those who need rent assistance to receive it in order to avoid mass evictions in the future,” Stefanie Knowlton, Communications Specialist with HRAC, told KOIN 6 News via email.

“If we want to be truly responsible, we should allow everyone to stay in their homes while we figure out how many still need rent assistance and whether they can access that assistance. We shouldn’t wait until they show up in court with an eviction to count the number in need,” said PSU Associate Professor and HRAC Director Marisa Zapata in a statement.

In terms of the number of Oregon households estimated to be facing eviction in the study, between 59,400 and 125,400, that data comes from HRAC’s analysis of the Census Household Pulse Survey

The monetary loss figure of between $720 million and $4.7 billion that may befall the state comes from data from emergency shelters, inpatient and emergency medical services, child welfare and juvenile justice services to estimate the downstream costs of evictions using a Cost of Eviction Calculator developed by the University of Arizona College of Law. That calculator measures the eviction-related costs that a government has to pay to provide for things like emergency shelter, inpatient and emergency medical services, child welfare and juvenile delinquency services. 

Taking into consideration the $200 million the state Legislature approved Dec. 21 for tenants and landlords and the $300 million more in federal funds that Congress approved in December and March, Oregon has now accumulated more than $500 million available for rental assistance. But it’s proven to be a slow process getting those funds into the hands of renters and landlords.

According to a June 14 letter to the Oregon Legislature by Oregon Housing and Community Service Executive Director Margaret Salazer, in favor of passing SB 278 (the 60 day grace period bill), OHCS provided $186.3 million in assistance to support more than 43,230 renter households up to that point. But there still remained $423 million that needed to be distributed. 

According to OHCS, more than $76 million has been requested through the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program, as of June 22. That amounts to more than 12,000 households that have applied.

There’s also a separate Landlord Compensation Fund that is administered by OHCS as well.

In addition, the HRAC researchers believe a disproportionate number of households at risk of eviction are households occupied by people of color. According to a survey conducted in collaboration with Community Alliance of Tenants, a statewide tenant advocacy nonprofit, as many as 35% of those surveyed owed back rent. That figure jumped to 56% for people of color, according to the survey released back in September.

Kim McCarty, Executive Director of CAT, told KOIN 6 News they believe the options for tenants right now don’t do enough to keep people off the streets.

“While Senate Bill 278 offers protections to some, thousands of tenants will continue to be left out and vulnerable to eviction,” she said. “On top of that, the 60-day extension for rent-relief applicants is completely arbitrary and likely will not be enough time for all applicants to be approved and given funds.”

McCarty said in order to avoid mass evictions, she’s urging Governor Brown “to take bold action, extend the moratorium, and stop using arbitrary time metrics. Extend the moratorium until we are sure that we streamline the process to get rent relief to those who need it most, and keep Oregonians housed. Senate Bill 278, SB 282, and the federal CDC order doesn’t do that.” 

Katrina Holland, Executive Director of JOIN, a nonprofit aimed at supporting homeless people in their transition to permanent supportive housing, said she wasn’t surprised to hear about such a high monetary cost estimated to be the result of mass evictions, according to HRAC.

She said JOIN has been trying to get the message out for some time that it’s more expensive for people to be houseless–and especially thousands of people becoming housing unstable or houseless–than it is to prevent houselessness in the first place.

“And because of that, we need to have some transformational, systemic change in the way that we deliver either rent assistance or deal with this issue of past-due rent. That would’ve been an issue whether there was a moratorium or not.”

Even if a tenant can pay rent come July, there’s still the issue of repaying any overdue amount from the period of April 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, when the moratorium was in place. Thanks to SB 282, passed earlier this month, renters will now have until February 28, 2022 to make good on those past debts. 

If a renter is in the precarious position of not being able to pay rent for July and has also not applied for rental assistance to show their landlord so they can get the 60-day extension, there is still a federal rental moratorium through the end of July. Information on how to apply to that can be found on Multnomah County’s website or the Centers for Disease Control’s website

While those who cannot pay rent in July and have not been granted protections under any of the above methods may indeed face eviction next month, Connor McDonnell, a spokesperson for OHCS, told KOIN 6 News people can apply to the funds as long as they are available.

“There is not currently a deadline for people applying for the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program (OERAP) as the program is open and will be open until funds run out.  The best place for people to go to learn about the program which includes a step-by-step video on how to apply, a check list for tenants, and landlords, and eligibility information can be found at www.oregonrentalassistance.org,” he said.

“You will find that we also have information on the CDC Eviction Moratorium on the webpage and other good information has been provided by the Oregon Law Center and the Oregon Bar Association on the recently passed SB 278 and SB 282. It is important that renter’s [sic] who have unpaid past due rent and anticipate that they will not be able to pay for their July and other future rent, to apply for the OERAP and/or other local rental assistance programs that may have available.  A good place for information is www.211info.org about what may be available in a particular community.”

According to the SB 278 bill, the law which grants the 60-day grace period for tenants who show proof to their landlord that they applied for rental assistance, tenants have until February 28, 2022 to provide the landlord documentation at or before their first appearance in court related to an eviction.

MultiFamily Northwest, an association representing landlords, showed in a survey they conducted that non-payments were on the decline this month compared to the previous month. While 13.2% of Oregon households said they could not pay their rent in May, that average dropped to 12% by June. If you are a landlord, they also provide information on their website about how you can effectively communicate to your tenants about what rental relief options are available to protect them against being evicted.

When asked about Oregon’s looming eviction moratorium coming to an end and the HRAC report, Deborah Imse, Multifamily NW’s Executive Director, told KOIN 6 News via email:

“SB 278 greatly expanded protections for renters while applications are being processed for an additional two months. We agree that action must be taken to move the hundreds of millions of dollars of emergency rental assistance dollars out to those who need them, but we have seen very little progress on the state’s part. Housing providers are doing all we can to get the word out about assistance programs, unfortunately we have not seen the same effort from our agency partners.”

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