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PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Oregon’s eviction moratorium ends on Wednesday, June 30. What will happen to tenants who cannot pay their back rent after that?
The Oregon House Committee on Housing will hold an information hearing on rental assistance funding and programming Friday, June 4. It is expected to include the most up-to-date official estimates on how many households are at risk of eviction, how much public money has already been spent on rental assistance programs and how much more is expected. Tenant advocates and landlord representatives are also expected to testify.
The hearing cannot happen a moment too soon. Despite the seriousness of the issue, there is a great deal of confusion about the scope of the potential problem among even those most involved with it.
So far $391 million in federal and state funds have been dedicated to rental assistance. But estimates of the amount of remaining statewide unpaid rent range from a low of $171.3 million to a high of $1.4 billion. In Multnomah County, the estimates range from $72 million to a little more than $500 million. Estimates of those at risk of eviction range from 56,000 to 90,000 households.
The confusion became apparent locally on Tuesday, May 25. That morning, the Portland City Council held a work session on how to spend the remaining $67 million from the first round of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. Economist John Tapogna, president of the ECONorthwest consulting firm, told the council that estimates of unpaid rents in Multnomah County range from $72 million to $242 million. But later that day, city budget officials released a new chart showing the Portland Housing Bureau estimates the unpaid rent in the county at more than $500 million.
That evening, the Community Alliance of Tenants co-hosted an online town hall on the upcoming end of the eviction moratorium. The local advocacy organization said 90,000 Oregon households are at risk of losing their homes. A fact sheet distributed by the alliance estimated the amount of unpaid statewide rents at between $249 million and $378 million. But the other co-host, PolicyLink, has much lower figures for the state on its website — just 56,000 households at risk and $171.3 million in unpaid rent.
The highest estimate of unpaid rents was provided to the Portland Tribune by three organizations representing landlords, which prefer to be called housing providers. Based on monthly surveys of members, they estimate the amount of statewide unpaid rent could be as high as $1.4 billion.
That does not take into account the rental assistance that has been paid out since the start of the pandemic, however, because the organizations do not know how much that is.
“To date, there has been very little reporting available that provides a comprehensive analysis of the current rental assistance landscape in Oregon,” Deborah Imse, executive director of Multifamily NW, said in a letter to state housing leaders on May 3.
The most recent MultiFamily NW survey found that 13.2% of households were unable to pay their rent in May. The figure was 13.2% in Portland.
The other two organizations are the Rental Housing Alliance and the Oregon Rental Housing Association. The three of them prepared an analysis of the rental assistance programs that accompanied Imse’s letter. It estimates that because of problems with the assistance programs, the amount is very small — perhaps as low as just 21.3% at this point.
The letter identified the programs and their problems as follows:
CARES Act Funding (CVRRPA)
The State of Oregon received CARES Act funding in March of 2020, and $63.5 million was processed through Community Action Agencies (CAAs) as short-term rental assistance. After receiving this tidal wave of funding, most CAAs adapted staffing and procedures to deliver this funding to the public. By December of 2020, 74.3% had been reported expended and 97% had been committed. A final report on the status of this funding has not been published, although we have been told to expect it next September.
December 2020 Emergency Board
In December of 2020, HB 4401 created the Landlord Compensation Fund (LCF), and the Emergency Board allocated $150 million to the LCF and $50 million to STARR Funding.
Landlord Compensation Fund (LCF)
The $150 million LCF permits Housing Providers to apply for rental assistance on behalf of their residents through an application portal at Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS). The system offers a preference to owners with fewer rentals and higher rent receivables, and only pays 80% of the amounts owed. The system has been fraught with major technical issues and has not paid out any funding to date. Surprisingly, in the first round of applications, less than $50 million was successfully requested. If the unsuccessful applicants are included, there may have been more than $50 million in requests.
Of the $50 million allocated by the Emergency Board, $40 million has been sent out through the CAA system. As of April 16, $5,975,986 had been distributed to the general public and approximately $20 million is committed. About $10 million was held back for other expenses. In discussions with several CAAs, the money has moved quickly and in many cases is depleted. However, as of April 16, Multnomah county had not spent any of this funding. OHCS is not planning to publish the status of this program until September of 2021. That is far too late to know if the programs are not working.
Consolidated Appropriation Act Funding (ERAP)
The Consolidated Appropriations Act sent $204 million to Oregon earmarked for STRA. OHCS is currently standing up a new centralized application system for distributing this money through the CAAs. It is not expected that this funding will reach the public until sometime this summer.
The letter proposed a series of changes to speed up the distribution of the funds.
“On behalf of all Oregonians, we ask that you re-evaluate the current delivery systems for speed, efficiency, transparency and protection for those most at risk,” the analysis concluded.
The June 4 hearing will be the first public opportunity for housing officials to correct the record and say what they expect to happen after the moratorium eviction ends on June 30.
The agenda for the hearing can be found here.