PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As the threat of eviction looms over thousands of Oregon households, state lawmakers passed additional safety nets to keep thousands of people housed who are currently struggling to pay rent or are facing eviction.
In addition during the one-day special legislative session Monday, lawmakers passed a $25 million bill for a comprehensive, statewide plan to address the proliferation of illegal cannabis around the state and ease the associated humanitarian impacts in Oregon.
Lawmakers also passed $100 million to help Oregonians impacted by this summer’s extreme heat and drought conditions.
‘Not a cool place to live in’
Estimates were that more than 11,000 households were currently at risk of getting evicted while they waited for funding. So, many are breathing a sigh of relief that legislators passed additional protections for renters.
Senate Bill 891 extends the safe harbor period for tenants so they can’t be evicted if they’ve applied for rental assistance and are waiting for their application to be processed through September 2022.
There are currently more than 27,000 applications still in the queue. The legislature also passed an additional $215 million package that includes $100 million for additional rental assistance, and money for landlords and administrative costs to speed up the process.
Those who have gone through the process, like Erin Meechan, said the waiting and the not knowing is tough.
“It’s really frustrating and it’s scary. This is our lives. That’s your job. This is our lives,” Meechan told KOIN 6 News. “People are everyday afraid. They don’t know how they’re going to, and if they go to work and start paying now, what about the 3 or 4 months that they’re behind that they don’t know if they’re going to get evicted for? I mean, that’s not a cool place to live in.”
Oregon Housing and Community Services committed to paying all of the initial funding out by March 2022. In the meantime, several lawmakers called for more accountability from OHCS and answers for why it’s taking so long to get people money they desperately need to pay back-owed rent.
Some drew parallels to the failures of Oregon’s unemployment system at the height of the pandemic. But OHCS said software issues and inadequate staffing have slowed things down.
Representative Julie Fahey said she and Senator Kayse Jama have already sent a letter to Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan and their partners distributing emergency rental assistance dollars.
The Associated Press contributed to this report