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Oregon legislature holding special session to prevent winter evictions

The federal funds allotted to Oregon will be spent by Dec. 1, the special session plans to address how to further assist Oregonians.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced on Tuesday she will be calling the state legislature into a special session on Dec. 13 to discuss eviction protections for renters during the winter months.

“As we enter our coldest months, it is absolutely essential that we take action to ensure no additional Oregon families are evicted when rental assistance is on the way,” said Gov. Brown in an emailed statement. “I have spoken directly with Oregon renters in recent weeks about the pain and hardship their families have faced due to the economic impacts of the pandemic."

The governor called on the legislature to extend protections to Oregonians who have applied for assistance.

More than 25,000 of the applications for the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program are still under review, and around 1,200 applications have been approved but those households have not yet received their funds, according to a spokesperson for the Oregon Housing and Community Services.

The state announced it would be pausing the program on Dec. 1 to get a handle on the backlog. 

Musonda Mwango, a father of three, spoke to KGW and said he met with Gov. Brown on behalf of people like him who lost everything and still have not received the emergency federal funds even though he applied in June and was approved in August.  

He was hopeful that the Oregon Legislature would meet in a special session to try and figure out a way to get more assistance to Oregonians who need it.

RELATED: Oregon's emergency rental assistance funds caught in backlog

“Our federal funds for rental assistance will be nearly spent on Dec. 1,” Gov. Brown continued in the news release from her office. “I am continuing to work with federal officials at U.S. Treasury and the White House to secure additional federal emergency rental assistance funding for Oregon, but it is clear that a state solution is needed to address the urgent and immediate needs of Oregon renters."

Of the $289 million in federal funds that the Oregon House and Community Services (OHCS) received for federal rental assistance, approximately $150 million has been paid out to more than 22,000 households.

As of a few days ago, a significant chunk of the funds — $159 million — hadn't yet reached renters. The state received nearly 51,000 complete applications for rental assistance but so far, just 43% of those who have applied have received funding, according to Associated Press.

Sybil Hebb, the director of legislative and policy advocacy at the Oregon Law Center, said she was grateful for the support for tenants in their continued discussions on rental assistance.

"As you know, there are so many Oregonians who are really struggling right now, and as we enter the winter and our coldest months, we really know that it's essential that no additional evictions are allowed to happen when rent assistance is on the way," said Hebb. "We were thrilled to see this action and this announcement and the calling out of the need for additional resources to make sure that there are the resources available to allow future applications for assistance to come into consideration as we enter the winter."

Hebb said 10,500 Oregon families and individuals across the state that are at imminent risk of eviction and displacement because applications for rental assistance have not been processed quickly enough.

She said another 17,000 households have applications pending and every day the application waits, families and individuals get closer to an eviction date.

"And it's just critical that we make sure that we have the resources while we have the resources available," said Hebb. "We do not let those households fall off the cliff while their applications are pending. So that's the most significant and most pressing immediate issue."

In the press release, Gov. Brown said she is proposing the following framework to prevent further evictions:

  • Extend eviction safe harbor protections for each individual who has applied for rental assistance.
  • Ensure landlords are paid in full for the rent they are owed.
  • Provide up to $90 million in additional rental assistance to ensure low-income tenants access through the winter.
  • Provide $100 million to transition from large-scale pandemic-related emergency rental assistance to long-term, locally-delivered eviction prevention services.

President of the Portland Area Rental Owners Association Christian Bryant said he hopes that the Oregon Legislature considers landlords in its special session.

"If the statistics are there to where they have to extend the protections for tenants, that does include money from some source to be able to continue compensating landlords," said Bryant. "And you really got to make sure they don't forget that a very large percentage of landlords own and manage under four or fewer units."

He said without compensation like rent from tenants or assistance from the government, many landlords will face difficult financial choices, too.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek tweeted her support of the special session, citing Mwango’s case as good reason for a furthered conversation for rental assistance.

RELATED: Oregon to pause new applications for emergency rental assistance

Senate President Peter Courtney said in an emailed statement that special sessions were difficult, “The Governor has called us in on December 13. That’s two weeks from today. Special sessions are the most difficult of all sessions. Everything must be carefully planned. We have a lot of work to do. I hope we will be ready.”

Other matters that need to be decided on before February 2022 may also be brought up in this special session.