The federal government has extended the end of the national eviction moratorium from June 30 to July 31—giving tenants an additional month to gather rent money.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the extension Thursday, noting that it will be the "final extension of the moratorium." The news couldn't come sooner for Portland renters, many of whom weren't expecting to be able to pay July rent, and fearing eviction.
According to a recent US Census poll of 777,000 Oregon renters, surveyed between May 26 and June 7, nearly 20 percent of tenants statewide had only slight confidence—or none at at—that they'd be able to afford rent the following month. Forty-one percent of those uncertain tenants said they were currently unemployed. Another poll found that 13 percent of Oregon renters were not caught up on rent payments during that same time period.
"This is an overall positive," said Lauren Everett, an organizer with Portland Tenants United, of the federal extension. "It officially makes the CDC more progressive than Oregon leadership."
Despite concerted requests from tenant advocacy groups to prolong Oregon's eviction moratorium, the state legislature did not agree to extend the protections past June 30 this session. Instead, lawmakers passed a bill that would protect tenants from eviction for 60 days if they could prove to their landlord that they'd applied for rent assistance. Much of the state's available rent assistance dollars are coming from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
In a statement emailed to the Mercury, a spokesperson for Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek said that, while Kotek "supports an extension of the eviction moratorium," she believed the Oregon Senate lacked the political support to move such a proposal forward.
It's not clear if the state will extend its moratorium to align with the federal government's, following this news. The same goes for Multnomah County, which is overseeing the county's dispersal of rent assistance dollars.
"We are talking with our staff, attorneys, and our providers about how this news will affect our planning for Multnomah County and the end of the moratorium," Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said during a county board meeting Thursday morning.
According to county spokesperson Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, "Once the state's moratorium expires, the federal extension becomes the law of the land; renters will be protected so long as they meet the criteria and submit a declaration form."
To waive rent payments under the state's moratorium, tenants have been required to sign a declaration form affirming that they cannot pay rent due to financial hardships caused by the pandemic. That form is then given to the renter's landlord. The CDC's required declaration form comes with stricter guidelines and disqualifies tenants who either didn't receive a federal stimulus check or don't make above a certain annual salary. This discrepancy could make it more challenging for renters to legally withhold rent in July.
The CDC extension won't change when skipped rent is due for Oregon renters. Tenants have until February 2022 to repay all rent payments they missed during the moratorium.
Everett said she hopes the state and county uses the month extension to better support renters who are attempting to apply for rent assistance, a process that has been overloaded since it began accepting applications in mid-May.
"The rental assistance program is a complete disaster," said Everett. "It's so hard for renters to access the program. We'd love to see this whole system reorganized, rather than putting the burden on people who are already under extreme stress."
Connor McDonnell, a spokesperson with Oregon Housing and Community Service (OHCS) said the state welcomes an additional month to catch up on rent assistance requests. "It's definitely going to help," McDonnell told the Mercury.
Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for Gov. Kate Brown's office, urged renters to apply for rent assistance as soon as possible, despite being granted another month of protection from the CDC.
"This will allow more Oregonians to stay in their homes, while they are also protected by the grace period to pay rent accrued prior to June 30," wrote Boyle in an email to the Mercury.
Organizers with another tenant advocacy group, Don't Evict PDX, want to see a commitment to protect the renters who are still facing evictions despite the moratorium. In a statement to the Mercury, a spokesperson for Don't Evict PDX explained that many Portland renters have been evicted for lease violations in past months, which is allowed under the current moratorium. The group believes landlords are making up arbitrary violations to still be able to evict tenants who aren't able to pay rent.
"What Oregon renters need is an extended moratorium that protects all tenants who are behind on rent," the statement reads. "Not just protections against evictions filed for non payment of rent."