September 24, 2020

Moving urgently to keep thousands of people housed once Oregon’s COVID-19 non-payment eviction ban ends this month, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved a local extension that preserves those protections for County residential renters through the end of the year.

Separately, the Board also voted to extend the County’s state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic through Jan. 8, 2021.

Neither vote alters protections that currently apply to renters in Multnomah County. Instead, the vote to preserve renter protections provides consistency and peace of mind, while the extension of the emergency declaration allows the County to continue using an expanded set of tools to expediently and flexibly respond to emerging issues.

That means, through Jan. 8, 2021, renters in Multnomah County cannot be evicted from their homes just because they can’t pay their rent. 

Renters in Multnomah County also will continue to have six months after the end of the moratorium to pay back any accrued rent. That grace period will now start Jan. 8, 2021.

(Read more about the specifics of the eviction moratorium here.)

The Board’s actions come less than a week before Oregon’s eviction ban expires, on Sept. 30. The County had passed its own moratorium in March, before the state’s ban was enacted. But the County later voted to follow the state’s more expansive protections. 

Without the Board’s vote Thursday, and with the state ban ending, renters in Multnomah County would have been covered only by a limited federal moratorium from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When renters wake up on October 1, they’ll know that they’ll be covered by the same protections as they were the day before,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury, noting the importance of “limiting as much anxiety and confusion as possible.”

“I think we have all learned over the last few months that consistency and stability are essential in a crisis.”

Commissioner Lori Stegmann acknowledged concerns about the pandemic’s ongoing economic toll not only on renters, but also on landlords and housing providers. But ensuring safe housing, she said, is essential in responding to a public health crisis.

Before the pandemic, the County’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities faced disproportionately high rates of poverty and homelessness compared to white County residents. The pandemic is worsening those economic divides. Those communities also bear a disproportionate share of COVID-19’s health burden, with higher rates of infections and complications. 

“We are in a pandemic. And I am very concerned about the potential for mass homelessness that will occur if we don’t take these steps,” Commissioner Stegmann said. “It is important and prudent that we protect the majority of our constituents who rent to make sure they have a place to live during this pandemic.”

The Portland City Council is set to mirror the County’s moratorium extension in a vote next week.

“Our jurisdictions are united in protecting our community and creating the foundation for a safe and sustainable recovery,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a letter read by Chair Kafoury before the Board’s vote. ”Thank you for your leadership and your partnership.”

In tandem with the moratorium, County and City leaders are also working to prevent evictions by distributing close to $30 million in federal state and local COVID-19 rental assistance funding before the end of the year. That’s in addition to, and more than twice the size of, what’s normally available in a given year.

But given the depths of the crisis, commissioners were clear Thursday that neither the moratorium nor the emergency infusion of rental assistance are enough to help everyone in need. 

“What we really need is federal action and massive amounts of rent assistance,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said.

“At some point the rent will come due,” Chair Kafoury said. “While we are avoiding mass evictions at this moment, we really need the federal government to pass” additional rental assistance and tenant protection measures, “to help not only renters, but also landlords.”

For immediate release: Thursday, Sept. 24

Contact: Denis Theriault, denis.theriault@multco.us