Oregon’s eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of June. Lawmakers recently passed a 60-day extension for tenants who can show proof that they’ve applied for rental assistance, even if that assistance hasn’t come through just yet. We hear from Community Alliance of Tenants Executive Director Kim McCarty and Jason Miller, legislative director for the Oregon Rental Housing Association, a group that represents landlords.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Geoff Norcross: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Geoff Norcross, in for Dave Miller.
Advocates for renters in Oregon say thousands of people across the state are in danger of falling off a cliff. The state’s eviction moratorium, which has been in place since early in the COVID-19 pandemic is set to expire at the end of this month. If renters can’t come up with the July rent, they could be kicked out. Lawmakers have passed a bill to extend the moratorium for 60 days. It now awaits the governor’s signature.
Here to talk more about this is Kim McCarty, Executive Director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, and Jason Miller, Legislative Director of the Oregon Rental Housing Association, that’s a group that represents landlords. Kim, Jason, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Kim McCarty: Thank you.
Jason Miller: Thank you, Geoff.
Norcross: So Kim, let’s start with you. As I mentioned, Oregon lawmakers have passed Senate Bill 278, and that is a 60 day extension of the current eviction moratorium for tenants who can provide proof that they have applied for rental assistance, and that’s an important point. The governor will probably sign it. If she does, what does this mean for people who are unable to pay rent on July 1st?
McCarty: What this could mean for people who are unable to pay rent on July 1st is that they’ll get a little bit of reprieve to work with a social service provider, to apply for emergency rental assistance. But this all assumes that the tenant knows how to apply for emergency rental assistance, has the technology to do so, and then even is eligible to apply for rental assistance. So even with these extra 60 days, there’s a big question mark about whether or not this will be enough.
Norcross: You say there are a lot of assumptions built into this. Are those unfair assumptions based on the experience we’ve seen with the eviction moratorium so far?
McCarty: Yes. Community Alliance of Tenants is a 25 year old organization representing low income tenants. We have 6000 tenant members, and our tenants are telling us that, yes, it’s an unfair assumption. From day one, we’ve been saying that these arbitrary deadlines, 60 days, 90 days, are just kicking the problem down the road. We need a realistic metric based on what tenants really need. And we thought that metric is closer to: when will rent assistance be fully expended, or when will we be back to full employment? These are the kind of metrics that we need to really determine when we’re going to get back to recovery for all tenants.
Norcross: How is that different from the metrics that are used now?
McCarty: The 60 day metric we believe is arbitrary. It’s based on the assumption that the system in place will be able to fully evaluate all of the forms that tenants need to send in, that the service providers will be able to call somebody that will be able to notify the landlord and make sure that they’re going to appropriately hold off until all the documentation is in and the check is cut. Even cutting the check is a process that takes time.
Norcross: Do you know how many people are caught up in this? How many people are struggling to make the rent in Oregon right now?
McCarty: Our estimates based on the poll census data is about 90,000 households Oregon-wide. And recently at the House Housing Committee, Multifamily NW, shared information [showing] about 13% delinquencies. So it seems like the numbers match up, if you look at a number of different calculations.
Norcross: There is federal money available to help renters and thousands of households have applied for that assistance. But the agencies that review and process those applications say they won’t be able to process the majority of them before July 1st. What does that tell you?
McCarty: That tells me a lot of tenants are at risk if there isn’t a high confidence that we’ll even be able to process the current applications, let alone the applications that we’re still waiting on. We know that there are a lot of tenants out there with thousands of dollars of back rent, and they’re quite worried and anxious and need help, or may not even be aware yet that this help is available to them. We estimate right now in the system there’s a need for about $378 million dollars.
Norcross: It sounds like a similar problem to what the Organ Employment Department was facing earlier this year. There was extra unemployment assistance available from the federal government, but the state couldn’t handle the wave of applications and all the people who had to wait for their benefits. I’m wondering what this says about our systems and their ability to handle a crisis right now?
McCarty: I’m certainly impressed with the Oregon Housing and Community Services for putting up the system so quickly. It does meet a lot of the boxes that both landlords and tenants have been asking for. But we have to keep in mind that the regulations behind this money, the federal money, were only shared with our communities sometime in May. So having any kind of system that’s fully up and operational is unrealistic. It’s not realistic for anywhere in the country, and Oregon is no different.
Norcross: Jason Miller, let’s turn to you. What is the Oregon Rental Housing Association’s take on this 60 day extension that the legislature has passed and the governor might sign?
Miller: The 60 day extension, and some of the other elements in Senate Bill 278, are kind of what housing providers have been asking for all along. We’ve been asking that tenants be required to seek assistance in order to get a pause on eviction, and we’ve been asking for a safety net if that assistance does not come. And both of those elements are Senate Bill 278.
Another portion of Senate bill 278 is the Landlord Compensation Fund is not going to be brought up to 100% compensation to landlords, and the 20% forgiveness is no longer required. And that’s definitely going to help a lot of small landlords that don’t have a 20% profit margin that they can play with. This is going to bring them closer to whole.
Norcross: You mentioned the Landlord Compensation Fund, and that is available to property owners, and the state has given landlords until this Wednesday to apply for assistance. What have you heard from your members about their experience in trying to tap into that fund?
Miller: The rollout of the Landlord Compensation Fund did have some difficulty, with some understanding that it’s a new computer system to OHCS, and it needed to have the bugs worked out. That was in the first round, the second round went quite a bit better, and I’m hearing that the third round is going very well. There are some limitations. As you know, the tenant has to sign a declaration stating that they’re in need. Landlords that are unable to get this signed declaration are still going without rent payment for past due balances.
Norcross: What can you say about who owns rental properties in Oregon? We could be talking about big companies that have investments, or mom and pop property owners. I mean, what’s the makeup like out there?
Miller: You’re right, Geoff, there’s all kinds of different people that own property in Oregon. You do have large corporate property owners, but you do have a majority of rental homes out there, non-apartments, that are owned by mom and pop housing providers. Those people are no different than you or I. Most of us probably know somebody that has a rental home or two, and they really do not have the funds to carry a property with unpaid rents for a long period of time.
Many of them were also affected by COVID shutdowns as well. I have one client of mine that was a bar owner, and I had to call him and tell him that his tenants were unable to pay rent because they were also in the hospitality field. So not only did he lose his full income from his bar when it was shut down, but he also was not able to bring in rent to help pay the mortgage on his rental property.
Norcross: If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking about the scramble to get help to Oregon renters who might be facing eviction soon. And we’re talking with Jason Miller, Legislative Director of the Oregon Rental Housing Association, that’s a group that represents landlords, and Kim McCarty, Executive Director of the Community Alliance of Tenants.
Kim, I understand the number of applications for rent assistance was overwhelming before the pandemic, what’s it like now?
McCarty: Right now, the Oregon Housing Community Services has a dashboard. I think right now they’re at about 13,000 applicants. And what’s not clear is how many of those applicants have actually [had] a check cut to the landlord. There were prior installments of rental assistance, both through the Landlord Compensation Fund and through some other federal funding sources that have been distributed, and that’s been really helpful in getting us bridged to this new emergency rental assistance resource.
Norcross: We do have this eviction moratorium which might be in place for another 60 days, it depends on what happens in the next week. But beyond that, what would you like to see the legislature do to help tenants who are at risk of losing their housing in Oregon right now?
McCarty: Our members want a comprehensive plan. First and foremost, we’ve been advocating for an eviction moratorium until all of the federal funding has been expended, which has a deadline as we understand it, of September of 2022. We believe that the recovery span will be a year or two at least. We’ve seen that that’s been the impact of our prior economic crisis, especially our low income communities and our Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color have experienced. It’s going to take time, and we’d like to see something, as I said, that’s very comprehensive.
Not only do we need more time to get the federal funding into the hands of tenants, and by extension into the hands of the landlords, but we also need to acknowledge that if someone’s evicted, there needs to be a plan to help that person quickly get back into housing. We cannot afford to have more people on the streets. Our social service providers were already at capacity. There’s no capacity right now to help additional people that will be in crisis, so we really need to keep people housed.
Norcross: Jason, some have suggested that part of the problem is the relief that’s available is a kind of a hybrid. Some can go to tenants, some can go to landlords, and it would have been a whole lot more efficient to just cancel the rent for tenants and give the money to landlords directly. Would that have worked?
Miller: I don’t necessarily like the word “cancel” the rent. I do believe that it would have been a lot smoother, would have been better for all if we were able to get rental assistance out right away, back in early 2020. The fact that the moratorium continued and the assistance took so long, we’re almost a year out before any real large amounts of assistance came in, is what [has] hurt the housing provider community.
There are a lot of housing providers, especially small single family home rentals, that just could not wait any longer and sold their investment properties. Which is not a big problem for larger cities, but is a large problem in rural Oregon where there are no apartment complexes to absorb the people that got displaced because their rental home was sold to somebody who owner-occupied the property.
So, you were seeing in the smaller towns around Oregon that there’s a shortage of rental homes, and people are flocking to the larger cities, or if they need to stay in the smaller town, they’re having a hard time finding a new rental. Which brings everything back to: We need to promote the building of new homes, new rental properties, new apartments here in Oregon, as we’re facing a housing shortage with the people moving into Oregon and the loss of the homes due to the wildlife fires.
Norcross: There are many levels to this problem for sure. Last question for both of you, and Kim, I’ll start with you: Oregon tenants who are struggling right now, what do they need to know?
McCarty: Oregon tenants that are struggling right now need to know that they can get assistance. They need to go to oregonrentalassistance.org. It’s one portal, it’s quite simple. Please take advantage of it, please call 211 if you need help in utilizing that system, and please don’t despair. There are many members of our community that are despairing right now and are just doubling up with family and self evicting, is the term. We urge them to stay in place and get the help that they need to stay in their home.
Norcross: And Jason Miller, Oregon landlords, what do they need to know?
Miller: Oregon landlords need to know that the assistance is out there as well, that assistance is coming. They need to communicate with their tenants and let their tenants know where to get the assistance, referring to oregonrentalassistance.org or 211. The landlord should be communicating to their tenant, helping guide their tenant through this process, because ultimately it gets them assistance, and prevents them from losing their small business.
Norcross: Jason, thank you so much, and Kim thank you as well. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
McCarty: Thank you, Geoff.
Miller: Thank you, Geoff.
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