Four-point-seven billion dollars.
That’s how much Portland State University researchers estimate the state may need to spend in coming years to deal with the devastating downstream consequences of tens of thousands of pandemic-related evictions.
With both the state and federal eviction moratorium expiring this summer, many are worried about the amount of rent tenants will soon begin to owe their landlords. But a report released Monday by the university’s Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative looked at a different number: how much will the state ultimately need to spend if all these at-risk tenants are evicted?
The report’s authors warn the state will likely need to spend tens of millions of dollars on social services, emergency shelters, juvenile justice services and medical care if these Oregonians lose their housing. More than 125,000 Oregonians have little to no confidence that they can make their July rent payment, according to the most recent Census Household Pulse survey. The report estimates the state would need to spend between $720 million and $4.7 billion to manage the fallout if these households were evicted in July.
But both the federal government and state have taken significant 11th-hour actions to avert this deluge of evictions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week it would be extending the federal eviction moratorium through the end of July. And the state passed a bill that will give renters who have applied for rental assistance 60 days before their landlord can file for eviction.
The new protections were not factored into the estimate and will likely greatly reduce the number of eviction filings Oregon courts see in July. But Dr. Marisa Zapata, director of the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative and co-author of the report, said the report should serve as a warning bell for what’s coming down the road.
While the new state protections may help renters in July, Zapata said it’s far from clear how many at-risk Oregonians will be spared eviction in the long run.
“I know the commitment is to try to help as many people as possible, but we don’t even know how many people don’t know about the program,” she said. “We don’t know what eligibility criteria will accidentally get in the way of getting people assistance. There’s a lot we just don’t know right now.”
The report is the second by the university to tackle the question of how much the eviction crisis will cost the state. The first, released in February, estimated Oregon could end up spending as much as $3.3 billion to respond to the aftermath of mass evictions.
This time, researchers used a different formula to estimate how many Oregonians were at risk of evictions. Instead of looking at how many Oregonians owed rent, the researchers looked at how many renters had little to no confidence they could make next month’s rent payment, according to the census survey.
Back rent is a less relevant metric right now as Oregonian renters have until the end of February to pay rent they’ve missed. But beginning in August, all Oregon tenants will need to start paying their monthly rent or face eviction — unless they’re waiting for rent assistance, in which case they have 60 days.
Zapata said she believed there are steps the state can take to lessen the number of evictions, such as extending the eviction moratorium and speeding up the distribution of rent assistance. The state still has $423 million in rental assistance that needs to be distributed. But it’s been slow-going as local providers find themselves overwhelmed by desperate households and technical glitches. As of last week, the state had so far distributed roughly $186 million — about one-third of available funding.
To calculate the downstream costs of evictions, the researchers used a calculator developed by the University of Arizona. The calculator takes in inputs related to how much emergency shelters, medical services, and child welfare cost in the state and churns out an amount for the statewide costs of eviction.
But the authors warn the output is likely not painting a full picture. The calculation doesn’t take into account other destabilizing consequences of eviction, such as gaps in educational achievement and the impact to earnings later in life.
“Considering these factors, the $720 million to $4.7 billion calculation is likely an underestimate,” the report states.
The report also warns the costs of these evictions likely fall disproportionately hard on renters of color. Last fall, the university conducted a survey that found 35% of renters surveyed were behind on rent. For renters of color, the rate jumped to 56%.