Within hours of Oregon lawmakers passing a historic relief package aimed at dispensing $800 million in general fund money to people impacted by COVID-19 and the summer’s wildfires, the staff at the Oregon Law Center began working on a legal guide to help Oregonians get that money into their bank accounts as soon as possible.
“That information should be up later today or tomorrow on the oregonlawhelp.org website,” said Sybil Hebb, director of legislative advocacy for the agency. “We will be sharing those materials with all of our community partners and encouraging folks to share them freely.”
In the meantime, KGW reporter Maggie Vespa turned to Hebb to help people in need understand how this will work.
Maggie Vespa: People are seeing these headlines about federal relief and specifically about the state relief that is coming down … And if they're sitting in their homes on their couches thinking ‘I need help. How do I get it?’, what is the advice that you can offer them?
Sybil Hebb: So, there are two options to get rent assistance under the bill, and the first is a $50 million investment in tenant-based rent assistance resources. The best way to access those resources is to contact your local community action agency or a local culturally specific organization. And [calling] 211 will be able to give you the names and phone numbers of those local organizations in your area … The second way you can apply for assistance is by asking your landlord to make an application, and the new landlord-based compensation fund is going to be set up in the month of January through the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department. And so we recommend that tenants reach out to landlords and let their landlords know about this resource … There is a web link on the OHCS website that allows you to sign up for an email. So you will get notified as soon as those resources are up and running, and they expect that program to be running in January.
MV: For those [in the first category] who are getting tenant-based rental assistance, is January also a hopeful timeline for when that would be available?
SH: We don't have an exact date on that. We expect that it'll be more quickly available than the landlord-based program, just because those systems have already been set up. They were set up when the CARES funding came through at the beginning of the pandemic. So those dollars have been available through community-based organizations, culturally specific organizations, as well as the community action agencies, but they haven't been expended. And so the program is still set up, but they need to be seated with more dollars. And so we expect that will come through very quickly.
MV: Will federal funding, provided through the $900 billion stimulus package also approved Monday, come through those same agencies?
SH: That's correct. So, the state just made a $200 million investment in these resources to make sure to get dollars out the door as quickly as possible to people who are struggling right now. The federal government just made an allocation. We believe the amount that Oregon will be getting will be something in the range of $280 million. So that's a substantial more than a doubling of the resource investment overall, um, it's unclear exactly what the specifications are going to be of those dollars and exactly when they will arrive. We expect probably March mid-Spring, and we hope that we will be able to filter those through those same resources to make sure that landlords, as well as tenants, can access those that assistance.
MV: In the meantime, the eviction moratorium was extended through the end of June. If a tenant is threatened with eviction, what would your recommendation for them be?
SH: So there are three ways basically that people can access the new protections. The first and best way, we think, to access that protection is for the tenant who is struggling because of financial hardship to fill out a declaration form and get that to their landlord as soon as possible. The law is set up so that [aid] only applies to people who are experiencing financial hardship, and it applies as soon as the landlord has received a form from the tenant attesting, declaring that financial hardship. Those forms are available right now at the oregonlawhelp.org website. If you are looking for a form, you can go to oregonlawhelp.org or contact your local 211 … And you can get it back to the landlord by mail, by in-person delivery, uh, by email or by text.
But if you haven't done that or you don't get to do that before your landlord gives you a get notice of non-payment, you have ten days after receiving the notice of non-payment to get the form back to the landlord, and that will hold the landlord's ability to keep moving forward with the eviction process.
If for some reason you miss that ten-day period [and your landlord does] move forward with the eviction process, you will get another form and you can use that form to return to the landlord at any time prior to your first court appearance. So you can do it proactively on your own initiative, or you can do it in response to a non-payment notice, or you can do it in response to a court filing.
And if you do it at any one of those time periods, you will receive protection from eviction.
That declaration form is also available on the last page of this PDF, as well as on pages 4-5 of House Bill 4401.
Staff at the Oregon Law Center also told KGW that form is all a renter needs to provide to their landlord in order to get protection under the moratorium.
“Renters do not have to provide additional documents or information,” read a FAQ sheet provided by the non-profit.
Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots, said she’s not concerned about renters who actually can pay defrauding the system.
“The Community Alliance of Tenants issued a report this Fall that shows that people go to extreme lengths to pay their rent, and they often skip medic medicine or they skip other food,” she said in an interview this week. “I really am not concerned about people undergoing fraud. I think that most people are just trying really hard to do what they can.”
The moratorium extension comes as a newly approved state law, under which the state offers to cover 80% of what landlords are owed, is expected to go into effect next month.
Any landlord who takes the state up on that offer then has to forgive the other 20%. For the tenant, the slate is wiped clean.
One group of Oregon landlords sued the state of Oregon and Multnomah County this week, claiming the eviction bans violate the U.S. Constitution and arguing, if officials are going to let tenants not pay, then the government should cover all of the debts owed.