Oregon governor calls for special session to protect renters
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — With winter coming and federal funds drying up, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday she’ll call a special session of the Legislature Dec. 13 to approve state funding for rental assistance and extend eviction protections issued because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is clear that a state solution is needed to address the urgent and immediate needs of Oregon renters,” Brown said.
Brown is proposing that protections be extended for everyone who has applied for rental assistance, that landlords be paid in full for the rent they are owed, that up to $90 million in additional rental assistance be provided to low-income tenants through the winter and an additional $100 million be provided to transition from pandemic-related emergency rental assistance to long-term, locally delivered eviction prevention services.
Brown said she is working with federal officials at the U.S. Treasury and the White House to secure additional federal emergency rental assistance funding for Oregon.
Oregon is not alone in feeling pressure as the federal government is forecasting that upwards of $30 billion — or about two-thirds of money allocated for rental assistance — will be disbursed or allocated by the end of the year.
Texas has stopped accepting new applicants because it has allocated all its funds, while New York has spent or committed nearly all of its money. California has also indicated it will soon exhaust its funds.
Margaret Salazar, the executive director of Oregon Housing and Community Services, said recently that Oregon “just did not get enough resources to meet the needs” of the state to respond to the immediate crisis.
As of a few days ago, a significant chunk of the funds — $159 million — hadn’t yet reached renters. The state received nearly 51,000 complete applications for rental assistance but so far, just 43% of those who have applied have received funding.
Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, and House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, said Oregon is committed to protecting individuals and families at risk of eviction.
“We can take action in a special session to ensure this doesn’t happen and that we keep our promise to Oregonians. No one should lose their housing because of administrative delays,” they said in a statement.
Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, who on Tuesday was named House Republican leader, said a special session isn’t needed and that the Legislature’s Emergency Board can allocate funds “to support those already in line to receive rent assistance.”
“Our unemployment level, jobless claims, and job openings have returned to pre-pandemic years. A special session is unnecessary,” the Republican from Prineville said.
Oregon Housing and Community Services received $289 million in federal rental assistance funds to help renters impacted by COVID-19, the governor’s office said. As of last week, almost $150 million was paid to over 22,000 households. The state housing finance agency and its partners have received more than 25,000 additional applications. Brown said Oregon’s federal funds for rental assistance will be nearly all spent by Wednesday.
Senate President Peter Courtney noted that with the session only two weeks away, lawmakers will face challenges to ensure that it’s productive.
“Special sessions are the most difficult of all sessions. Everything must be carefully planned. We have a lot of work to do,” the Democrat from Salem said.
Associated Press writer Sara Cline in Portland contributed to this report.