SALEM, Ore. — A bill aimed at reforming Oregon's eviction system to reduce homelessness got a first committee hearing in the Oregon Legislature Monday. Senate Bill 799 would give cash-strapped tenants more time to come up with a plan before being evicted for nonpayment of rent.
The legislation would lengthen the required notice period before landlords can evict for nonpayment, and it would allow nonpayment eviction proceedings to be delayed for up to 60 days if a tenant has a pending application for rental assistance.
Nearly 80 people were signed up to testify before the Senate Committee on Housing and Development, according to committee chair Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, a majority of whom were in favor of the bill.
"When tenants get exorbitant rent increases of the kind we are seeing now, 15%, 32%, 50%, they need time to pull together resources. Under today's rapid eviction laws, they can quickly get pulled under by the rapid wave of eviction court," Sen. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, said in testimony.
Many others who spoke at the hearing also condemned the speed of Oregon's existing eviction system, arguing that the current 72-hour window creates a no-win scenario for tenants who have fallen behind on rent.
"Because of scarce resources, many agencies will not help a tenant until they have an eviction notice. This starts a three-day sprint to find help, get a check cut and get the money delivered," said Kim McCarty, executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants.
In a news release echoing comments from several people who testified, the group Stable Homes for Oregon Families described SB 799 as a restoration of temporary rules that were put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a longer eviction notice period and "safe harbor" protection for tenants who are actively seeking rent assistance.
Those protections expired last year, and eviction rates more than doubled over the course of the year, reaching an average of 2,155 evictions per month in recent months, the organization said, citing data from the group Eviction Defense Project that was presented during the hearing.
Opponents of the bill who testified at the hearing also described it as an extension of the pandemic restrictions, but argued that the pandemic proved those rule changes would be damaging if made permanent.
"SB 799... provides no assurance to renters or housing providers that the rent will be paid," said Deborah Imsy, executive director for Multifamily Northwest.
The bill would force landlords to follow pandemic-era restrictions on evictions, she said, without guaranteeing that low-income renters would be able to find assistance or that landlords would get paid back.
"These measures were not meant to be permanent," added Jason Miller, legislative director for the Oregon Rental Housing Association. "They were extreme measures taken during extreme times, where thousands of people were out of work for months because of government-mandated shutdowns."
Stable Homes for Oregon Families described SB 799 as one piece of a "Homelessness Prevention Package" that the group has been lobbying to pass. The group said the package would also include $100 million in rent assistance and Senate Bill 611, which would tighten existing limits on the size of annual rent increases.
Those bills are among a range of homelessness and housing measures that have taken center stage in the current legislative session. Gov. Tina Kotek also recently revealed details about her plan for a $130 million bill that would go toward preventing homelessness and providing more services for people who are already experiencing homelessness.