Metro counties struggling to keep up with rental assistance applications

Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon continues to see an influx of applications for rental assistance amid a backlog of over 11,000 applications waiting to be processed.

“The metro area in particular just got slammed with an influx of applications,” said Margaret Salazar, executive director of Oregon Housing and Community Services. Counties in the metro area, in particular, are struggling to stay up to date with the applications being processed.

Andrea Bell, the director of Housing Stabilization for Oregon Housing and Community Services, said they are addressing the most vulnerable households first.

Safe harbor provisions are in place across the state meaning renters cannot be evicted without a 60-day — and in some cases 90-day — notice. Renters must provide proof to their landlord showing they’ve applied for rental assistance.

Back-rent accrued between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, is not due until Feb. 28, 2022, per Senate Bill 282.

Salazar said the state is working toward a complete payout of Emergency Rental Assistance 1 before moving to ERA 2.

“Renters need more time,” she said. “It’s a challenge, a big hurdle to jump over the 60 days.”

Bell said they’re “making sure those dollars are going out the door and into the hands of landlords”

In an earlier briefing, it was estimated a total of 13,000 applications fell outside the window, whereas now there are around 11,200, according to OHCS.

“Each week we are continuing to see somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 applications,” said Bell. He encouraged renters to still apply for assistance as funding is still available.

OHCS said they have no specific timeline regarding when renters can expect applications will be cleared.

Clackamas Women’s Services is among several organizations calling for a special session of the legislature to pause evictions for renters who have applied for help.

“What a shame it would be to have all of this assistance out there and have had people go through that process, which can be challenging enough as it is, only to find out the money will eventually go out, but they may no longer be in that home,” said Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women’s Services.

Oregon State Sen. Kayse Jama said the legislature needs to act quickly.

“The need for housing support was substantial before the pandemic, and that has simply become more true,” Jama told KOIN 6 News. “I’m working with Chair Fahey, Leadership, OHCS, as well as tenant advocates and landlord organizations to find a joint resolution so we can keep Oregonians in their homes. These discussions are happening in good faith, and we share this common goal.”

Gov. Brown’s office shared the following statement Friday:

“Everyone deserves a warm, safe, dry place to call home––and that’s especially true during a public health crisis. Housing is a basic human need, which is why Governor Brown has worked closely with the Oregon Legislature since the beginning of this pandemic to keep Oregonians housed and to provide a range of resources to support both renters and their landlords.

“At Governor Brown’s direction, Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) continues to work with state and local partners who continue to rapidly expand staffing, use every flexibility that our federal funders will allow to speed application approvals, and focus on households most immediately at risk of eviction. These unprecedented steps are helping to prevent evictions and ensure rental relief is paid out to the families who need it as quickly as possible.

“OHCS and its partners continue to increase the rate of application processing and dollars getting out the door. They paid out $20 million of assistance in just the last two weeks alone — more than they paid out in the entire year of 2019. In total, OHCS has distributed more than $300 million in emergency rental assistance over the past 18 months. And, as of last month, they had committed more than $204 million in rental assistance in 2021 alone. This is more in just nine months than the agency typically allocates in a decade.

“The Governor knows, though, that thousands of households remain at risk of eviction and need assistance as immediately as is possible. And, as many states are experiencing, the demand for assistance remains high. The Governor continues to work with legislators to explore potential solutions that would extend additional tenant protections as we continue to deliver unprecedented levels of assistance, and at this time any solutions to address issues surrounding evictions must be enacted in partnership with the Legislature as a part of the legislative process. The Governor is continuing those conversations with legislative leaders from both parties about a special session, and she is willing to call the Legislature into session when and if the votes are in place.”

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