Portland's City Council put out a call this week asking for all rent and mortgage payments to be forgiven.

Graffiti in Portland calls for a rent strike. The cumulative effects of unpaid rent across Oregon could climb into the billions if the state does not develop a plan to avert evictions, according to researchers.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

Recent estimates show Oregon renters could owe up to a staggering $378 million in back rent as the pandemic and widespread unemployment rage on. But researchers say this is a small fraction of the cost to Oregon if leaders don’t act to avert the evictions of the estimated 89,000 households that have fallen behind on rent.

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A report out Tuesday by Portland State University’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative put downstream costs of the mass evictions predicted to occur in Oregon once the eviction moratorium expires in June at as high as $3.3 billion.

The authors of the report arrived at the figure using estimates of households that owe back rent, which were derived from a U.S. Census Bureau survey and a cost-of-eviction calculator devised by the University of Arizona. The calculator takes into account some of the major costs associated with eviction, including emergency shelter, medical care, and child welfare services.

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According to the calculations, Oregon could spend anywhere between $1 billion and $3.3 billion responding to the aftermath of mass evictions if the state does not act to provide eviction support before the moratorium expires in June. Homeless shelter costs alone could range from roughly $530,000 to nearly $2 billion.

The report’s authors warn they are likely underestimating the state’s financial burden. The cost-of-eviction calculator they used does not take into account future impacts to educational achievement, the cost of building new shelters, or the added health care costs that would come with the increased risk of COVID-19 if 90,000 households were evicted, for example

“They’re enormous and they’re also probably an understatement,” Lisa Bates, associate professor and Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative researcher, said of the cost estimates. “There are a number of other impacts of experiencing eviction and houselessness that are even more difficult to capture. For example, thinking about small kids, we know their whole life course is affected by experiencing houselessness.”

Bates said the burdens will fall disproportionately hard on communities of color. According to recent estimates, Bates said, about 40% of households at risk of eviction are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. Just over half are households with children living in them.

To avoid a flood of evictions, the report’s authors recommend local and state leaders create policies to prevent evictions, such as establishing a reasonable repayment time to make up backlogged rent, expanding emergency rent assistance programs, and increasing access to landlord-tenant mediation.

Oregon’s eviction moratorium is set to end on June 30.

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