Sun glints off a goldent statue of a pioneer in this tree-framed closeup of the top of the Oregon Capitol building.

Sun glints off the pioneer atop the Oregon Capitol building in Salem, Ore., Saturday, June 29, 2019.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

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A bill to provide safe harbor from evictions for Oregonians awaiting rental assistance, cleared the Oregon House of Representatives Thursday. The bill also ensures landlords who are awaiting payment of past-due rent will receive it.

Lawmakers hope the proposal contained in amendments to Senate Bill 278, which was passed by the House rules committee earlier this week, will help avoid a mass eviction event following July 1 when the state’s eviction moratorium is set to expire.

While renters have until Feb. 28, 2022 to pay past-due rent from April 2020 through the end of June 2021, they’ll be required to start paying monthly rent in July.

The bill -- which passed unanimously in the House -- would give renters a 60-day pause on being evicted, as long as they can prove they’re one of more than 10,000 Oregonians waiting on rental assistance

The state is currently rushing to push out approximately $500 million in rental assistance and compensation for landlords. But technical glitches, an unprecedented number of applications for rent assistance, and staffing capacity within the Oregon Housing and Community Services department and its partner agencies, have caused significant delays.

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Federal aid dedicated to rent assistance and landlord compensation also languished once it hit the state’s bank account due to a lack of guidance from the treasury department. The department didn’t issue directions on how to spend those funds until May 7, further exacerbating the delay.

“For the last 15 months, we have been responding to the situation as it exists on the ground based on the best information that we have, and the data that we are seeing now is very clear that we need to take action to protect Oregonians,” said Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene. “We have the resources we need to prevent evictions, to make housing providers whole and to stabilize landlords and tenants.”

Fahey and Rep. Jack Zika, R-Bend, were the two House members who have led the charge on creation of the state’s landlord compensation fund and rental assistance program to help those struggling with housing through the pandemic.

Zika noted on the House floor, that amendments to SB 278 tweaked a provision of those original programs that required landlords to accept 80% of past-due rent and forgive the remaining 20%.

“SB 278 fixes that deficit, and makes the tenants back rent 100%, making it fair for both tenants and landlords,” Zika said.

Zika also highlighted a provision that says if a tenant is declined assistance, or there’s been a significant delay in processing their application by OHCS, a third-party fund will be made available for landlords. Landlords can apply to receive compensation for missed rent over the 60-day eviction pause period.

“We added the third-party piece because there are concerns from tenants, landlords, myself, and some of our other colleagues, that we have tasked OHCS to do a lot during the pandemic,” Zika said. “And we are asking a lot of the department and the community action agencies, but these are trying times, and Oregonians still need help… This is a fair policy.”

Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, spoke on the floor in support of SB 278′s passage, but offered a small rebuke of delays the state has seen in getting these funds into the right hands.

“We’re at the end of our patience, in terms of, if you have money, get it out and help people, and stop giving me excuses why it didn’t get out,” Evans said. “There should be no more tolerance for any more ‘oops’ on this particular issue.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration where -- if lawmakers agree to speed up the process-- it could be voted on as early as Monday, June 21.

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