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Oregonians testify to rent crisis ahead of Monday’s special session

For 10 months, Christy Hernandez has been waiting for emergency rental assistance.

She was evicted and lives in a Salem-area motel with her three sons. She does not know how long she will be able to live there. And she doesn’t know how she will be able to find the money to rent another place for her family.

A legislative committee met on Saturday to discuss the proposals that will be considered in Monday’s special session of the Oregon state legislature and seek public comment on them. Among those proposals is additional funding and protections for tenants facing eviction.

Tenants, landlords and attorneys across the state on both sides of the issue told lawmakers how the state’s slowness to approve or deny housing assistance during the pandemic has had an impact.

“Our lives have been thrown into chaos,” Hernandez said. “We didn’t ask for that. We did our best during the pandemic after being laid off but I feel like we were let down by the state.

“Please keep Safe Harbor protections in place so that no one who has applied can be deported while awaiting assistance. Please ensure rental assistance is funded to meet the needs of people like me.

Icicles blanket the trees surrounding the Oregon State Capitol Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021 in Salem, Oregon.

Among the points under study for the extraordinary session:

  • Prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment if they applied for housing assistance before June 30, 2022, provided they provide landlords with proof of their application. This would last until October 1, 2023.
  • An additional $100 million in rental assistance to reopen the program to new applicants.
  • A grant program to combat illegal marijuana operations.
  • Establish a forgivable loan program to help farmers and ranchers who lost income in 2021 due to natural disaster.

During the 2021 session of the Legislative Assembly, she granted a 60-day “safe harbor” period against eviction to tenants who requested the assistance. But significant delays with the state system left thousands at risk of deportation, even after the Legislature approved the safe harbor period.

“We know the risk of eviction is all too real for many families,” said Oregon Housing and Community Services Executive Director Margaret Salazar.

Session:Oregon officials hope to reopen rental assistance program soon

According to state figures, about 8,000 people in the state were at risk of eviction as of Dec. 9.

This includes 1,457 people in Marion County.

And there are tens of thousands of people in the current 60-day period still waiting for the state to comply with their demands.

Project ARCHES Program Manager Ashley Hamilton and Project Tanner Program Manager Sara Webb stand in the Project Tanner lounge in Salem, Oregon.  ARCHES has grown rapidly to include the new rental assistance program.

Oregon stopped receiving new applications for housing assistance on Dec. 1 for at least six weeks because the state’s $289 million in federal funds had been allocated.

“Our field data shows that evictions for non-payment filed in Lane County courts have doubled since funding became unavailable,” said Tim Morris, executive director of the Springfield Eugene Tenant Association.

“We see the most vulnerable in our community every day, students, the elderly, families with children, LBGTQIA+ people and BIPOC communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

Bill:Oregon Legislature to convene in emergency session as tenants face eviction

Sybil Hebb, director of legislative advocacy for the Oregon Law Center, said there have been more than 2,300 eviction cases for nonpayment in Oregon since July 1, when the eviction moratorium began. expired.

“I want to remind people that we have the resources to pay these claims that were submitted before December 1, but unless we take prompt and protective action, these households are at serious risk of being evicted within months. coming up,” Hebb said.

Oregon’s emergency rental assistance program, which is funded with federal dollars, has been plagued with delays in processing and distributing funds as the application portal has been overwhelmed since the launch of the program in May.

“We want to make sure that the policy we are proposing will protect people from evictions,” said Senator Kayse Jama.

Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, in the Senate during Wednesday's legislative session.  Senator Jama was the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 778.

Governor Kate Brown and others have requested additional funding from the US Treasury, which administers the program, but state leaders have said they do not expect to receive a decision on whether the state will get more money before spring.

The Legislature is proposing to dedicate $100 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to help renters, $10 million to a homeowners warranty program and $5 million to expedite payments.

“They’ve been waiting a long time,” said Rep. Kim Wallen, R-Medford. “The inefficiency and frankly incompetence of the agency that should have paid them their money did not.

“We need to make these landlords whole, these housing providers whole.”

Some landlords have not received rent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Some people testified that the lack of state accountability in implementing the program exacerbated the delays.

“We’re on the fourth major legislative or policy change in 18 months that was supposed to address housing for Oregonians, and yet we still don’t have an administrative fix to get the check out,” said Deborah Imse, executive director. . of Multifamily Northwest, an organization of rental housing providers.

Appointment:Salem Councilman Chris Hoy Named to Replace Brian Clem

Zena Moore applied for rental assistance for her residence in Clackamas in September. She started a position at Adventist Health in November, but is still waiting for the check to show up.

Several members of his family have died of COVID-19 and his bills are piling up while waiting for aid to be approved.

“I’m grateful for the program, but it’s been scary not having received the check yet or any information about the application process for me,” Moore said.

Bill Poehler covers Marion County for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at [email protected] or Twitter.com/bpoehler

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