Gov. Brown calls special session to prevent winter evictions

Oregon

Gov. Kate Brown will be calling the Oregon Legislature into a special session on December 13

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Aiming to prevent an onslaught of wintertime evictions, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will be calling for a special session in two weeks.

Brown will be calling the Oregon Legislature into a special session on December 13. Announced by her office in a press release on Tuesday, Brown hopes to address eviction protections for renters.

According to the press release, the state’s federal funds for rental assistance will be all but spent by this Wednesday. Although she is continuing to work with the U.S. Treasury and the White House to secure additional funding, Brown says a “state solution is needed to address the urgent and immediate needs of Oregon renters.”

“As we enter our coldest months, it is absolutely essential that we take action to ensure no additional Oregon families are evicted when rental assistance is on the way,” Brown said. “I have spoken directly with Oregon renters in recent weeks about the pain and hardship their families have faced due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. We must take legislative action now to approve additional state funding for rental assistance, and to extend eviction protections for Oregonians who have applied for assistance.”

Brown is also urging legislators to begin laying the groundwork for more locally-driven eviction prevention services to transition to after federal pandemic emergency programs end.

The governor’s office says Brown has spoken with legislative leaders, stakeholders, landlord associations and housing advocates. Having had those conversations, Brown is now proposing a framework to prevent evictions.

That framework includes four key points:

  • Extend eviction safe harbor protections for each individual who has applied for rental assistance.
  • Ensure landlords are paid in full for the rent they are owed.
  • Provide up to $90 million in additional rental assistance to ensure low-income tenants access through the winter.
  • Provide $100 million to transition from large-scale pandemic-related emergency rental assistance to long-term, locally-delivered eviction prevention services.

This announcement comes after several groups called for a special session to extend eviction protections, saying thousands of Oregon households are waiting for the state to get out rental assistance.

The Oregon Law Center told KOIN 6 News that they continue to hear from families who are desperate for help and said they are out of time as they wait for their rental assistance application to be approved. 

The latest numbers show more than 11,000 Oregon households are now outside of the 60- and 90-day safe harbor windows that prevented them from being evicted if they showed their landlord they applied for help. Because of that, the Oregon Law Center said eviction filings have increased six-fold since July.

Sybill Hebb, the director of policy and legislative advocacy at Oregon Law Center, said there are two significant reasons they pushed for this.

“One is to make sure that the people who have pending applications for rent assistance don’t lose their homes while their applications are being processed,” Hebb said. “And the risk there, very simply, is of mass displacement and the grave harm that can have generational consequences for individuals and families, if they lose their homes, especially in the middle of winter, especially in this post pandemic time where some many families are still struggling to come out of crisis.”

She said their clients are scared and don’t know where to turn.

“They don’t know how they’re going to ensure that their kids have a roof over their heads in the coming days, weeks. And they’re desperate to find a way to protect themselves from eviction. They’ve done everything that they could, they’ve applied for rent assistance. They know that the funds are available, and they’re just not sure that they’re going to get to them in time to prevent that displacement,” Hebb said. “And so that’s the action that we need to take is to make sure that folks who have pending applications are not displaced while the applications are being processed and tenants and households across the state need that security without it, there is no peace of mind.”

Other supporters, some detractors

After seeing the announcement of the special session, Stable Homes for Oregon Families released a statement commending Brown.

“Governor Brown’s call is welcome news for the thousands of renting families and individuals who are living every day with the threat of eviction because the rent assistance they applied for has been delayed for months. We also appreciate all the state lawmakers who have been working together on a solution,” the statement read. “Tenants are counting on the legislature to ensure no one loses their home while their applications are pending and also to provide additional funding to help keep people safe and stable during this time of ongoing economic upheaval.” 

Deborah Imse, the executive director of Multifamily NW, issued a statement as well. However, this statement was against the special session — saying it will further delay fund disbursement.

“For more than 18 months, thousands of housing providers across Oregon have gone without income,” Deborah Imse said. “They have gone along with statewide measures to protect renters, have advocated for increased resources, and outlined concrete steps to remedy the administrative issues plaguing our rent relief program. The state has refused to accept any accountability for the mismanagement of this program and we simply cannot support a special session that will delay disbursement of promised funds yet again. The state needs to uphold their end of the deal and cut the checks to Oregonians in need.”

Although evictions will be the primary focus of this upcoming special session, legislators will have a chance to tackle other pressing matters as well.

However, Republican leaders said a special session is not necessary for the eviction issue.

“After back-to-back years of record state revenue, the Emergency Board has the ability to allocate funds to support those already in line to receive rent assistance,” said House Republican leader Vikki Breese-Iverson.

Oregon is not alone in feeling pressure

(AP) — Oregon is not alone in feeling pressure as the federal government is forecasting that upwards of $30 billion — or about two-thirds of money allocated for rental assistance — will be disbursed or allocated by the end of the year.

Texas has stopped accepting new applicants because it has allocated all its funds, while New York has spent or committed nearly all of its money. California has also indicated it will soon exhaust its funds.

Margaret Salazar, the executive director of Oregon Housing and Community Services, said recently that Oregon “just did not get enough resources to meet the needs” of the state to respond to the immediate crisis.

As of a few days ago, a significant chunk of the funds — $159 million — hadn’t yet reached renters. The state received nearly 51,000 complete applications for rental assistance but so far, just 43% of those who have applied have received funding.

Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, and House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, said Oregon is committed to protecting individuals and families at risk of eviction.

“We can take action in a special session to ensure this doesn’t happen and that we keep our promise to Oregonians. No one should lose their housing because of administrative delays,” they said in a statement.

Oregon Housing and Community Services received $289 million in federal rental assistance funds to help renters impacted by COVID-19, the governor’s office said. As of last week, almost $150 million was paid to over 22,000 households. The state housing finance agency and its partners have received more than 25,000 additional applications. Brown said Oregon’s federal funds for rental assistance will be nearly all spent by Wednesday.

Senate President Peter Courtney noted that with the session only two weeks away, lawmakers will face challenges to ensure that it’s productive.

“Special sessions are the most difficult of all sessions. Everything must be carefully planned. We have a lot of work to do,” the Democrat from Salem said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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