Oregon housing dept. fear wave of evictions, urging local officials to quickly distribute relief funds

SALEM, Ore – As the deadline for thousands of renters covered under Oregon’s emergency rent assistance approaches, state officials are looking to prevent a potential wave of evictions heading into 2022.

The state launched, “Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program” in May. As of September 30th, the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department along with other local organizations, says it distributed about $69.6 million in federal emergency rental assistance funds to 10,722 households. 7,028 applications are in the final steps of receiving funding.

Nevertheless, OHCS says its concerned that renters who applied for assistance are still at risk of being evicted.

OHCS and our local program administrators have never processed and distributed this much rental assistance in such a short time before. This is a historic accomplishment,” Margaret Salazar, Executive Director of OHCS, told reporters in a briefing Friday. “We have asked [landlords] to do the right thing, and we have reassured them that funds will continue to flow through into their hands. But its likely not enough to stave off evictions.” 

Ashland resident Debra Humber, said her family is behind about $3,000 on rent and applied for assistance in July. She told NBC5 Monday, that she was approved for funding on the state’s website, but later received a notice stating she filed an appeal.

“I’m confused, scared and I’m worried,” Humber said. “Am I getting my rent paid? Am I not getting my rent paid? I need answers and no one is getting back to me.”

RELATED: Oregon legislators concerned about potential surge in evictions following end to moratorium

ACCESS in Jackson county distributes the rent for the state and told NBC5 last month that it was experiencing glitches transitioning into their new system. Melanie Doshier, support services director with ACCESS, said the system has since improved and they have been releasing funds more efficiently.

Humber said a representative told her the error was on ACCESS’ end, and they are working to fix it.

“The new system did have a lot of glitches and it took quite sometime to figure out how to work within the system,” said Doshier.

OHCS believes it met the federal requirement of distributing at least 65% of emergency rent assistance funds by the September 30th deadline. Officials project that all of the funds will be spent by Spring of 2022 and more funding would be needed to meet the current demand in the state.

“We had hoped for more guidance from the U.S. Treasury related to the definition of obligated funds now that Sept. 30 has passed, but states are still asking for more clarification,” Director Salazar said in a release. “Based on how several other states are calculating the spend down, we remain optimistic we have met that benchmark, having  disbursed or obligated $123 million or 73% of ERA 1 funds. That 73% figure, which exceeds the 65% benchmark, should make Oregon eligible to receive additional ERA funding.”

OHCS also announced additional funding to support 15 community-based organizations, aimed at keeping people who are facing evictions lawfully housed.

“This collaboration demonstrates our commitment to helping families stay healthy and remain safely and stably housed as they weather challenges resulting from the pandemic,” Dolly England, Community Engagement Coordinator Program Manager with OHA, said. “No family should have to choose between paying rent, putting food on the table or buying medicine. With the Housing is our Health initiative, our goal is to ensure communities impacted most can get the help they need.”

With thousands of renters still awaiting funds mixed with delays in the system, Salazar urges local officials and organizations to quickly process applications, as many landlords grow impatient.

“This is unacceptable to us,” Salazar said. “We need all of our partners, all of our local program administrators, to feel the same sense of urgencies that we feel.

We can’t let these challenges stand in our way.”

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