July 13, 2021
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The banner above was strung across my street in April of last year. Little did I realize, when I used it for my April 2020 newsletter, that it would still be there more than a year later. It should now say “We’re almost there, Oregon!”
We’re almost there. Seventy percent of adult Oregonians have received one dose of the vaccine; more than 60% have been fully vaccinated; and the state has officially reopened. We stayed the course, we hung in there, and for many of us, we are through the COVID tunnel - and not a minute too soon. There is much to celebrate.
As usual, I have a note of caution to add. Almost 30 percent of Oregonians have not yet been vaccinated. In Multnomah County, those who are unvaccinated are disproportionately low-income and people of color. They are still at risk, particularly as more transmissible variants take root. For Black/African Americans in our region, for example, the percent positivity rate has been elevated since March, suggesting increased disease prevalence and the continued need for testing. They are two times more likely to test positive than are white people, 80% more likely to be hospitalized, and are about 40% less likely to be vaccinated. So the pandemic is over for the majority of us, but not for all of us. For many people and businesses, a health and economic crisis continues. In recognition of this, the Board has voted to extend Multnomah County’s emergency declaration through December 31, 2021.
One of the most immediate issues we face is a threatened wave of evictions. The state eviction moratorium ended on June 30th, meaning that landlords are now able to evict for failure to pay rent. According to Portland State University’s Homeless Research and Action Collaborative, almost 60,000 Oregonians do not think they can pay their next month’s rent. And of the estimated 15,000 households who have applied for state-funded rent assistance, about 10,000 are Multnomah County residents - showing that we have a disproportionately high share of at-risk renters.
The good news is that rent assistance is available. Multnomah County distributed $46 million between April 2020 and June 2021; and we have an additional $100 million available as of July 1. But creating the systems for distributing that volume of rent assistance quickly enough to stave off evictions requires an enormous ramp-up. (By way of comparison, the county’s pre-COVID annual rent assistance disbursed was just $10 million.)
While the legislature declined to extend the state moratorium, it did enact SB 278, which provides some alternative protections. Specifically, it provides a 60-day grace period for people who have applied for rent assistance -- intended to provide more time for rent assistance to get pushed out. This week, the MultCo Board voted to extend this grace period for 90 days for Multnomah County renters. The extra 30 days reflects the high volume of burdened renters in Multnomah County, and the time it will take our staff and partner organizations to reach them with rent assistance.
While I supported our extension of the SB 278 grace period, I believe that an additional period of eviction moratorium -- one that would apply to all renters, not just those who have applied for assistance -- was warranted. The process of completing the application for rent assistance is so long and complicated that fully half of those who begin the application fail to complete it. Indeed, I’ve heard from our nonprofit partners that many tenants still do not even know that rent assistance is available. This may be hard to imagine, but language, technology, and lack of connection to social media or services all present barriers to the groups that are most likely to be at risk of losing their housing. And if they lose their housing, the houselessness crisis we already face is only going to get worse.
I do also recognize the hardship faced by landlords. The past 15 months have presented unprecedented challenges for all people and businesses. In recognition of this, SB 278 provides landlords additional protections, allowing them to claim 100% of unpaid back rent (they were previously allowed only 80%) as well as reimbursement for rent unpaid during the 60-day grace period. This pandemic has forced many difficult choices: and at the end of the day, it’s our job, as the county’s social safety net provider, to prioritize our most vulnerable residents. (You can read my full remarks about the SB 278 extension here.)
The extreme heat we experienced at the end of June was unprecedented. In response, the County opened three 24-hour cooling centers, provided extended hours at nine library branches, and sent out 60 teams of outreach workers and volunteers to distribute water and other supplies. More than 1,000 people stayed overnight at the cooling centers, and hundreds more came in during the daytime. In addition, county staff called thousands of elderly and otherwise vulnerable clients to check in on them.
I recognize and am incredibly grateful to all those who worked on and volunteered in this effort: it was extraordinary. And yet 71 Multnomah County residents died during the heat wave -- 54 of whom have been formally ruled as having died of hyperthermia. My heart goes out to their loved ones. And we have to do better next time. Our systems have to do better.
It’s imperative -- and Chair Kafoury has indicated that this work is already in progress -- that the county conduct a thorough analysis of our response and that of our partners. We need to know the details of who died, and the circumstances: age and other demographics, where they lived and in what conditions, whether they tried to call 211, whether the county or a service provider reached out to them, whether they had access to transportation, and so on. We need recommendations for how we and the city and state can be better prepared for the next extreme heat event -- because we know, due to climate change, that it’s not "if" but "when" that next event arrives. And it's likely that there will be another extreme climate event even as soon as this summer.
The Board will receive a briefing on the county’s heat response at the end of July. Board agendas, briefing materials, and video recordings can be found here.
Lori Jackson-Nicolette Elias Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act
As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, domestic violence and gun violence have both spiked during the pandemic. I joined Senator Wyden, Chair Kafoury, Reps. Prusak and Reynolds, and advocates from Moms Demand Action for a press conference about the Lori Jackson-Nicolette Elias Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act bill, which would prevent abusers from acquiring or keeping guns while subject to a temporary restraining order. Nicolette Elias was a 46-year-old Portland woman who was shot and killed by her ex-husband in 2014, while subject to a temporary restraining order. The presence of guns makes domestic violence five times more likely to be deadly, and the time when a victim has filed for a protective order or taken other steps to leave is the most dangerous time she faces. This is common sense legislation that will save lives, and I was honored to stand with my colleagues and advocates in supporting it.
Immigrant Heritage Month
Last month, I was proud to bring forward Multnomah County’s first-ever Immigrant Heritage Month proclamation. The anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions of the previous administration, and the anti-Asian violence we’ve experienced over the past year, make it more important than ever that we celebrate the contributions of immigrant communities, recognize the barriers they face, and commit to changing our systems to ensure they are accessible and effective for all. We had some wonderful panelists: Sankar Raman, founder and Executive Director of The Immigrant Story; musician Joe Kye; and high school poet Belise Nishimwe. Each of them shared their immigrant story, showing how each is unique and yet shares common themes.
In the Community
It was a delight to participate in my first in-person constituent gathering since re-opening: the Portland Gray Panthers hosted a lively discussion about houselessness, violence, police reform, and more. I’m looking forward to many more in the months to come!
North and Northeast Portland Vaccine Clinics
- Arbor Lodge Shelter (the old Rite Aid)
- 7440 N Denver Ave. Portland, OR
- Indoor site | Moderna Vaccine | Ages 18 years and older
- Portland Community College (PCC) - Cascade Campus
- 600 N Killingsworth St. Portland, OR
- Indoor site | Pfizer Vaccine | Ages 12 years and older
- Parkrose High School Student Health Center
- Monday - Friday
- 9:30am - 4:00pm
- 12003 NE Shaver St. Portland, OR
- Indoor site | Pfizer Vaccine | Youth 12 years and older and their families
- Roosevelt High School
- 9:30am - 4:00pm
- 6941 N Central St. Portland, OR
- Indoor site | Pfizer Vaccine| Ages 12 and older
Click here for more information on where you can get a COVID-19 Vaccine.
Apply for the Community Involvement Committee
Do you care about community involvement in County decision-making? Do you want to help reduce barriers to civic participation? Do you enjoy working with a diverse group to identify common goals that benefit the community? If so, apply to join the County's Community Involvement Committee (CIC).
The CIC serves as Multnomah County’s advisory body on community engagement and involvement. CIC members engage in an ongoing review of the County's community involvement policies and programs, bring community concerns to County leadership, and assist in facilitating communication between the County and the community.
We are currently recruiting for five new CIC members. To learn more and start your application, visit https://www.multco.us/oci/apply-community-involvement-committee
Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until all vacancies are filled.
Join a Multnomah County Community Budget Advisory Committee
Are you interested in learning about county programs, budgets and priorities?
The Office of Community Involvement is now accepting applications for new Community Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) members. CBACs are groups of community members that review and make recommendations on county departmental budgets and operations, and are one of the key ways the county receives community input on its budget priorities.
No budgeting or financial expertise is necessary! Just an interest an interest in the programs and budget process of the County and availability to attend meetings. To apply and for more information, visit multco.us/oci/cbacs
Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until all vacancies are filled.