Dear friends and neighbors,
I hope that the first few weeks of the new year have given you the opportunity to see glimmers of hope for the months ahead, despite our many ongoing challenges.
This morning, between the swearing in of Vice President Kamala Harris as the first woman, first Black person and first person of Asian descent to hold that office; President Joe Biden’s inaugural address; and the powerful, stirring poetry of Amanda Gorman, I certainly felt a surge of optimism. I'm grateful for the return of compassion, competency and truth to the White House.
While this administration will not solve all of the challenges we face right now, it won’t deny or run away from them, either. And with the benefit of new federal priorities and recharged momentum to help local governments meet the needs of their communities, Multnomah County will continue the work of helping our residents weather the pandemic and moving us toward a period of meaningful and equitable recovery.
In case you hadn’t heard, I want to let you know that starting Feb. 1, 2021, Multnomah County renters will be protected by Oregon’s statewide eviction moratorium, which makes it unlawful for landlords to evict people who are unable to pay their rent and for landlords to evict renters without cause.
Renters must sign and return a one-page “Declaration of Financial Hardship for Eviction Protection” form to their landlord in order to be protected by the moratorium through June 30, 2021. The form can be downloaded here. Starting Thursday, renters can also pick up a copy of the form at any Multnomah County Library location.
The form is currently available in English, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, traditional Chinese and Korean. More languages will be available online and at the library sites soon.
Although landlords are required to issue a notice to renters about the moratorium that includes the declaration form, renters are encouraged to submit the form as soon as possible, even before receiving a notice from their landlord. The form only needs to be submitted once. Renters are also strongly encouraged to keep a record of when the form was sent and to keep a copy of the signed form for their own records.
Renters may submit their signed form to their landlord in person, by mail, or by sending a copy or photograph of the form by email or text message.
Renters who submit the form have until July 1, 2021 to pay back money they owe, a change from the longer repayment grace period in Multnomah County's original moratorium. Renters and renter advocates have shared their worries about this change with me, and I completely understand their concerns. Even as we roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, there is little chance that our community will have returned to a sense of normal by then.
If the State doesn't act to extend either the moratorium or the grace period beyond June 30, I and my fellow county commissioners are committed to taking action locally to make sure that renters in Multnomah County remain protected and housed for the duration of the pandemic. Any eviction moratorium and grace period only postpone a debt that will eventually come due when the protections eventually end, and for the vast majority of renters, the amount of back rent that has accrued during the pandemic will be unscalable. We will not leave renters in our community exposed to the financial cliff that awaits once the moratorium and grace period end.
But the County can't sunset the moratorium responsibly on our own. We need the federal government to help renters pay their back rent. People were struggling to pay rent before the pandemic, and the former administration's underwhelming COVID-19 response has pushed so many more people deeper into crisis. Repairing the instability and damage caused by their lack of support will require massive investments.
President Joe Biden’s proposal to distribute $30 billion in rent assistance, in addition to the $25 billion that was approved in December, is very encouraging, welcome news. While the moratorium offers stability for now, providing sufficient rent relief to ensure tenants can remain housed and stay healthy once we've turned the page on the pandemic is the only way our communities can move forward and share in our recovery together.
Find more information about what the statewide eviction moratorium means for renters here.
Working toward racial justice
On Sunday afternoon, I had the immense honor of speaking at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church’s annual interfaith gathering to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the face of a difficult year, it was incredibly encouraging to virtually join people from across the country to reflect on and steel ourselves for the work we have ahead of us to achieve Dr. King’s dream of the Beloved Community. You can watch the full event here.
As the state’s largest provider of safety net services, the local public health authority, and one of the broadest tables for helping coordinate the criminal justice and public safety systems, Multnomah County is uniquely positioned to help bring our community closer to Dr. King’s vision. The crises we have and continue to endure have made the urgency of transforming systems that perpetrate and perpetuate inequities exceedingly clear.
Multnomah County will continue to lean into our ongoing work to transform broken systems and work toward social, racial and economic justice and equality. You can learn more about and track the many ways that we are striving toward a more equitable community by visiting the County’s Justice and Equity Agenda website. The injustices we seek to address are in no way new, but our responsibility to make them right has never been more urgent or clear.
Please stay safe and stay healthy,
Multnomah County Chair