Governor Kate Brown has announced a special legislative session for the Oregon Legislature to address protections for renters who've been financially impacted by COVID-19. The session will begin on December 13, in the midst of a funding crisis within the state's emergency rental assistance program.
Oregon is poised to temporarily pause its rental assistance program on Wednesday, December 1, as the state has exhausted the $289 million in federal funding it has received for emergency rental assistance. The expected six-week pause will also allow the state's housing agency to clear an immense backlog of applications it's received. The state has already doled out nearly $150 million in federal dollars to more than 22,000 renters, yet more than 30,000 renters who've applied for assistance are still waiting for their payments. Thousands continue to apply for assistance each week.
In June, Brown signed a law protecting Oregon renters from eviction, allowing tenants a 60-day “safe harbor” period from being evicted if the renter applied for rental assistance. Because of the state's application backlog, that protection has expired for more than 13,000 households, placing those tenants at risk of immediate eviction.
“As we enter our coldest months, it is absolutely essential that we take action to ensure no additional Oregon families are evicted when rental assistance is on the way,” said Brown in a press release. “We must take legislative action now to approve additional state funding for rental assistance, and to extend eviction protections for Oregonians who have applied for assistance."
Brown outlined four priorities she hopes to see realized in the coming session. Those include an extension to the safe harbor protections for those who've applied for rental assistance, reassurance that landlords have been paid in full for past-due rent, an approval of $90 million in additional rental assistance for low-income tenants, and the investment of $100 million to transition pandemic-related emergency rental assistance programs into long-term eviction prevention services.
The news signals Brown's interest in finding local resources to fund eviction defense and rent support.
“I am continuing to work with federal officials at US Treasury and the White House to secure additional federal emergency rental assistance funding for Oregon," said Brown, "but it is clear that a state solution is needed to address the urgent and immediate needs of Oregon renters. And, we must begin laying the groundwork now for the transition to local eviction prevention services after federal pandemic emergency programs draw to an end.”
According to a press release, Eugene Rep. Julie Fahey and Portland Sen. Kayse Jama worked closely with Brown's office to compel this special session. Brown said her decision was also informed by community housing advocates.
Brown met with the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) earlier this month to hear the organization's policy demands related to renter protections, which included a moratorium on evictions until June 2023, a statewide reduction in rent increases, and penalties for landlords who threaten evictions during the moratorium. On Tuesday, CAT expressed its gratitude for Brown's special session announcement.
"We're happy that some action is being taken even if it's at the midnight hour," said Donovan Smith, a spokesperson for CAT. "Every day that we wait more people are being evicted."
The December special session will be Oregon's second special session of 2021. In Septemeber, Oregon legislators met to hammer out new state district maps. The next regular session is scheduled to begin in February 2022.
The length of the December 13 special session will be determined by legislators, but is expected to last several days.