Renters living in Multnomah County are now protected from eviction for nonpayment for 90 days if they provide proof to their landlord that they have applied for rent assistance.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved an ordinance extending the protection period granted by Oregon Senate Bill 278.
SB 278 — which took effect June 25, 2021 — grants 60 days of protection from non-payment evictions to tenants who give documentation of their rent assistance application to their landlord. The County’s ordinance, effective immediately, adds 30 days of protection for Multnomah County residents. The protection period starts when the tenant provides documentation to their landlord.
“Extending SB 278’s protections by another 30 days will help ensure Multnomah County and our partners have enough time to process applications, and help people get current on their rent and regain stability,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “We have reorganized and expanded our systems in preparation for the challenge. Still, the unprecedented scale of need, and the resources to meet it, far exceed those of other counties across the state, and the extra time will be vital to getting people the help they need.”
The Oregon State Legislature enacted SB 278 to give service providers across Oregon more time to work through a record-breaking number of rent assistance requests, by offering safe harbor to tenants who are still waiting for their applications to be processed.
Renters in Multnomah County who are unable to pay their current rent, or have accrued unpaid rent from April 2020 to June 2021, are strongly advised to apply for rent assistance as soon as possible. Help is available at www.oregonrentalassistance.org. Upon completion of the application, renters will receive a letter that can be used as documentation for the landlord to become eligible for the 90 days of protection from eviction.
At the same time, any renters in Multnomah County who do receive an eviction notice should call 211 immediately to learn about rapid-payment rent assistance that may help them avoid eviction.
The need for rent assistance in Multnomah County and the scale of what is currently available — nearly $100 million in local, state and federal funding — far outpace other jurisdictions across the state. More than 10,000 of the approximately 15,000 households who have applied for State-funded rent assistance reside in Multnomah County. Additionally, the County in partnership with the City of Portland is distributing 10 times the amount it typically disburses in a year.
“Our ability to get rent assistance out the door is the critical element that will prevent an eviction tsunami,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said. “This is not the end of the work. this is part of the puzzle and part of the ongoing work we have yet to do.”
Multnomah County has created two new rent assistance teams to augment its distribution efforts: one processing requests coming through the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and another entirely dedicated to eviction prevention. The County also has a pool of staff standing by if the capacity of the application processing team is stretched.
“We are trying to get as much money out the door as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann added. “We want to get that money to renters and to landlords.”
Further, the County has invested in legal assistance to serve people who nonetheless end up enduring the eviction process, and to connect them with rent assistance.
The Board’s vote for the ordinance also recognizes that recovery after an economic downturn has historically lagged for communities of color and low-income households. The leisure and hospitality sector — among the industries hit earliest and hardest by the pandemic — is also likely to take the longest to rebound as Oregon reopens. That means people who worked in this sector before the pandemic are in more urgent need of rent assistance and will continue to face higher risks of eviction until the entire job market recovers. Currently, in Multnomah County, the leisure and hospitality industry remains 40 percent below pre-pandemic levels.
“We know that there’s still a significant number of people who lost their jobs or saw their income reduced and the economic impact of the pandemic still continues,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “The pandemic isn’t over, and neither is the emergency we were trying to avoid when we first instituted our moratorium.”
Landlords are urged to avoid filing eviction notices, and to instead encourage their tenants who are unable to pay their current rent, or have accrued back rent, to apply for rent assistance. Giving tenants the opportunity to stay housed while they apply for rent assistance, paid directly to landlords, can be beneficial for all parties.
“I believe that extending this moratorium for those who are in the process of seeking rental assistance will undoubtedly keep people in their homes and reduce what is already a crisis of houselessness on our streets,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.