Dirk Vanderhart

With no end in sight for the economic fallout of COVID-19, Governor Kate Brown has extended Oregon's statewide moratorium on residential evictions due to non-payment of rent to the end of 2020.

“Every Oregonian deserves a warm, safe, dry place to call home,” said Brown in a Monday press release announcing the decision. “Thousands of people have been displaced by massive and devastating wildfires, and the global pandemic continues to make it difficult for many Oregonians, including Oregon's veterans and many families with children, to pay rent, through no fault of their own."

Brown first approved a 90-day moratorium on residential evictions in March, when closures due to COVID-19 left thousands without regular paychecks. That moratorium was then extended (and strengthened) through state legislation passed in June, which stretched the eviction ban to September 30, and gave renters until March 31, 2021 to pay back outstanding rent payments. This new executive order extends the moratorium until December 31—but does not come with a grace period to repay skipped rent.

According to Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for Brown's office, "unpaid rent accrued between October 1 and December 31 will be due January 1, 2021."

Boyle said this is why Brown has called on the Oregon Legislature to take action before the end of the year to cobble together a longer-term solution for tenants at risk of eviction. The legislature is also expected to address the concurrent threat of mass foreclosures, based on months of homeowners' delayed mortgage payments. Brown has also approved a foreclosure moratorium to last until the end of the year.

It's still not clear what those protections could look like, or when Brown will convene the state legislature to discuss this looming issue.

It's something tenant advocates are also eagerly awaiting. While hitting pause on rent payments keeps cash-strapped tenants temporarily housed in the middle of a pandemic, tenants say the solution only delays what feels like an inevitable wave of evictions.

"If people haven't been able to pay rent for months, they're not going to suddenly have the money to repay it all," said Marih Alyn Claire, a longtime Portland renter and founder of the tenant advocacy group Oregon Renters in Action. "Extending the moratorium is not even going to begin to focus on the problem. It just kicks the can down the road. We need to be doing triage right now to help tenants."

A recent survey of 460 Oregon renters—conducted by the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) and Portland State University—found that more than half have cut back on food and medications to pay rent during the pandemic. The survey also found that 35 percent of polled tenants owe back rent.

CAT has called on state lawmakers to go beyond just extending the eviction moratorium and effectively cancel all rent payments and past debts for the duration of the pandemic.

Claire Rudy Foster, a CAT volunteer and tenant organizer, hasn't been able to pay rent since losing her job at the start of the pandemic. And with the threat of contracting COVID-19 still high in Portland, Foster hasn't felt comfortable applying for jobs that take her outside of the apartment she shares with her child. She hasn't been able to find remote work, and instead is leaning on the state's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and food stamps to stay afloat in the short term. Foster said most tenants in her apartment building haven't been able to make full rent payments since the pandemic began.

"We really are fending for ourselves here and it shouldn’t be that way," Foster told the Mercury. "This is a colossal policy failure. As much as I believe in mutual aid, I know there needs to be some decisions higher up to keep people in their homes."

Multnomah County has gone slightly further than the state to help financially unstable tenants. Last week, Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted to extend the county's eviction moratorium until January 8, 2021 and bump the deadline to repay missed rent to July 8, 2021. And earlier this month, Portland City Council voted to extend the city's renter relocation program to require landlords pay moving costs for tenants facing rent increases of any size (the policy usually only applies to those facing a rent hike of at least 10 percent).

But both county and city officials are waiting on the state and federal lawmakers to take more concrete action.

"There’s no denying that [local government] cannot address the need that's out there without support from our state and federal partners," said Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in a recent interview with the Mercury. "There are things they can do that we can't."