More than 10,000 Oregon residents have applied for rent assistance, have had their applications accepted, and yet, due to the state’s inability to process applications quickly enough, are at risk of losing their homes.
Gov. Kate Brown reminded lawmakers in Salem on Monday in hopes of fixing the issue and ensuring people stuck in the bureaucratic backlog do not lose their homes this winter.
Here is an overview of the problem and the proposed solution:
What do lawmakers hope to accomplish by returning to Salem on December 13?
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed what is known as a “safe harbor” bill. A person at risk of losing their home because they could not afford rent could apply for rent assistance.
Once their claim was recognized by the state, they were given a 60-day window in which they would not be evicted for not paying rent. The idea was that this would give the state time to process the request and send money to the tenant’s landlord, while also giving the tenant a break in fear of being evicted.
But because so many people applied, it took state and local agencies that distribute the federal rent assistance dollars more than 60 days to process most cases.
This meant that many Oregon residents were at risk of eviction for not paying their rent even though the state had the money and was trying to get it to the landlord.
Lawmakers have said the main goal of this special session is to extend the Safe Harbor period to ensure those already seeking help are not deported while they wait. Democrats also want to put more money into the rent assistance fund, which is expected to dry up unless more money comes in from the federal government.
Why is there such a backlog of rental applications?
Housing officials said a high flow of applications made it difficult for them to catch up. The agency overseeing the rental assistance program, Oregon Housing and Community Services, had to shut down the web portal for six weeks starting Dec. 1 to clear a backlog of more than 30,000 applications.
As a result, Oregon Housing and Community Services has stopped accepting new applications. Housing officials said once they got over the backlog, there would not be enough funds to help additional applicants.
At one point, the state was receiving about 3,000 requests per week.
Is more money coming to help tenants?
The two Democrats leading this housing campaign – Rep. Julie Fahey from Eugene and Senator Kayse Jama from Portland – are looking to use $ 215 million from state funds and leftover American Rescue Plan Act to keep people housed.
About $ 100 million would go to state community action agencies to create a more local network of eviction prevention services. An additional $ 100 million would go to the state rent assistance fund.
The state housing agency will receive $ 5 million to reimburse the ministry for costs it incurred in processing the high volume of applications. And an additional $ 10 million has been put on the table to ensure landlords get paid if their tenant is denied help.
Oregon housing officials have said that once they deal with the backlog of applications, the $ 289 million pot of federal pandemic assistance dedicated to rent assistance will disappear. They plan to seek more help from the federal government in the spring, but it’s unclear whether or how much the state would receive.
How many people are being evicted right now because they cannot pay their rent?
The Oregon Law Center Eviction Defense Project tracks rent default evictions and tries to take every possible case to let people know about the state’s emergency rent assistance program and help available to them.
According to project data, there were 2,284 nonpayment evictions filed in Oregon between July – when the state’s moratorium on evictions ended – and November.
The number of deportation requests has steadily increased each month, from 361 in July to 565 in November.
Landlord-tenant lawyers say up to 40% of these cases ended in circumstances that could have been avoided.
Do Republicans support this approach?
Republicans – who are in the minority in both chambers – don’t have the votes to stop anything, but they can deny a quorum.
This means that in order to pass anything in law, Democrats need certain Republicans to show up. Republicans in the House are particularly wary of their counterparts, and a lack of trust between the two sides has made negotiations more difficult in recent times.
They rejected the idea that a special legislative session is necessary. Instead, Republicans called on lawmakers to convene a smaller subset of the legislature called the emergency council, which can allocate money when the legislature is not in session, but cannot. adopt policy changes.
Democrats are steadfast in their support for a special session, saying extending protections against evictions is a key part of this proposal.
Has an agreement been reached?
Yes, a bipartisan deal announced on Friday outlined what the two sides agree to when they arrive in Salem on Monday.
The deal includes an extension of eviction protections until at least June 30, 2022 for those waiting for their rental assistance application to be processed.
The deal also includes nearly $ 100 million to help farmers and ranchers suffer from drought; $ 25 million for the state to strengthen its oversight of illegal marijuana grow operations in Jackson and Josephine counties; and $ 18 million to support the state’s network of resettlement agencies, which are preparing for the arrival of 1,200 Afghan refugees over the next year.
Oregon’s recent favorable economic forecast and remaining federal aid money has provided the legislature with the flexibility to respond to this and others currently facing the state.
Including rent assistance money, lawmakers could approve a total of $ 400 million in spending during this special session.
Republicans and Senate Democrats in both chambers have expressed support for the proposed deal. House Republicans did not immediately indicate whether they would support the proposal.
How long will this special session last?
It’s unclear. But lawmakers hope they can contain the session one day.
If Republicans do not allow the suspension of parliamentary rules so that the legislature can move forward faster, the session could last up to five days.
If the bipartisan deal includes an agreement to suspend the rules, the Democratic lawmakers leading the charge have all the necessary documents in order, and the session could end on Monday.