Residential evictions in Oregon for failing to pay rent will cease for 90 days, under an executive order issued by Gov. Kate Brown on Sunday.
The move is the latest major action Brown has taken amidst the spread of the new coronavirus and the devastating economic impacts it has caused. It comes as the governor has faced increasing pressure in recent days to enact a shelter-in-place order to combat the spread of the coronavirus — including a call Sunday by the top elected officials in the state’s three most populous counties.
“Through no fault of their own, many Oregonians have lost jobs, closed businesses, and found themselves without a source of income to pay rent and other housing costs during this coronavirus outbreak,” Brown said in a statement. “The last thing we need to do during this crisis is turn out more Oregonians struggling to make ends meet from their homes and onto the streets.”
Under Brown’s order, law enforcement officers in Oregon are not allowed to act on eviction orders for nonpayment of rent, making the case that residential evictions could help the disease COVID-19 spread. The order does not pertain to commercial evictions, and does not appear to stop landlords from beginning eviction proceedings in court.
“If immediate action is not taken to suspend residential evictions for nonpayment of rent and related costs, there will be increased opportunities for the virus to spread among people displaced from their homes,” the order says. “In addition, Oregon runs the risk that available housing resources will not be efficiently used, and that the already serious economic and other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be even worse for vulnerable Oregonians.”
The order doesn't contemplate potential fallout for landlords, though Brown's office has convened a task force that is tackling economic damages from the coronavirus.
Brown had said for days that an order on evictions was in the works, though it wasn't clear how broad the order would be. In the last week, leaders in Portland, Beaverton and Multnomah County announced similar moves.
The governor is also expected to announce new restrictions for businesses like theaters and gyms, though many of those operations have already closed due to concerns about the coronavirus.
But directives on evictions and limits to a segment of businesses are not likely to satisfy a growing contingent of voices calling on the governor to issue a more sweeping order compelling Oregonians to remain indoors unless they are completing essential tasks or pursuing solitary exercise.
In a telling sign of how strong that sentiment has become, the chairs of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties sent Brown a letter on Sunday, asking her to issue such an order
“During this crisis, we will need every tool available to us to serve our community’s most vulnerable,” said the letter, signed by Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington, and Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard. “We ask that you move boldly to protect the residents of this great state by issuing a clear Stay at Home, Stay Safe Executive Order.”
Kafoury's signature on the letter was particularly notable. On Friday, she participated in a confusing joint press conference with Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler meant to communicate a unified approach.
At the meeting, the three elected officials urged Oregonians to stay indoors. But while they were ostensibly unveiling a plan of action, a coherent strategy was hard to suss out. Brown said she had no plans to issue a statewide order for Oregonians to remain at home. Wheeler suggested that he was ready to issue such an order on Monday. Kafoury, who is married to Brown’s chief of staff, stressed the importance of a statewide policy.
Now, however, Kafoury has added her voice to those calling on Brown for stronger action.
Those calls became especially urgent on Saturday, as packed coastal towns and beaches revealed that Oregonians are not taking officials’ polite requests to stay home seriously.
Dozens of Portland-area mayors sent Brown a letter on Saturday calling for a statewide stay-at-home order. The Portland area's regional government, Metro, joined that call on Sunday.
“Even though the majority of Oregonians are staying home and staying apart, it is evident that many people are not observing the pleas from our leaders to hunker down,” the Metro Council wrote in a letter to the governor, noting that it does not have the authority to issue a stay-at-home order.
In the last week, governors in California, New York and Illinois have issued shelter-in-place orders. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose state was an early epicenter of the virus in the US and with whom Brown has frequently strategized, has not issued such an order.