On June 1, Oregon's eviction moratorium expired, ending a 14-month-long period during which Oregonians couldn't be evicted for failing to pay rent. Fearing a surge of evictions, the Oregon legislature passed safeguards to keep tenants in their home. So far, it appears to have worked and a surge hasn't happened.
"It has not materialized; it's just starting to. And part of that is, we're suspecting, related to the fact that Senate Bill 278 offered some protections for people if they had applied for rental assistance," said Molly Heiss, director of housing stabilization at NeighborImpact. "Senate Bill 278, obviously allowed for evictions to start to take place. It did not do anything to extend the moratorium, but what it did do is put in the 60-day protection for folks that applied for rental assistance."
The Oregon legislature enacted the protection period after the Oregon Housing and Community Services department had more trouble than expected due to the sheer volume of aid being doled out. Oregon HCS Executive Director Margaret Salazar said the department, along with local program administrators, have approved over $220 million in state and federal rental assistance in 2021, which Salazar said is more than they typically spend in a decade.
"We know that many people who have applied for the Oregon emergency rental assistance program have been waiting to receive rental assistance, and we know that many of them are starting to get worried, especially with rent due at the beginning of the month," Salazar said during a media briefing on Friday. "This is weighing heavily on us. We want to reassure anyone who has applied that OHCS and our local program administrators are doing everything we possibly can to process those applications as quickly as possible."
Salazar said some people who haven't received benefits are now outside of the 60-day safe harbor period. To minimize this issue the oldest applications are being processed first and documentation requirements were made more flexible.
"Gathering documentation is extremely difficult for many, many families, especially those with limited means," Salazar said. "Now Oregon has opted in to all of these flexibilities, but because of the decentralized nature of how we are running the emergency rental assistance program in our state, 18 different agencies around the state are processing applications, and adopting all of those flexibilities universally statewide has been a challenge."
Though evictions haven't been coming back en masse, there are indications they are coming back. Heiss, of Neighbor Impact said they've been receiving more applications since June, though it's not certain how many of those were specifically concerned about the eviction moratorium. The number of applications fluctuated throughout the pandemic, with a lot of applicants after the initial wave of COVID, fewer during the winter and a rise since the moratorium expired.
"I definitely have seen an uptick since June 30," Heiss said. "People, I think, were leaning on the moratorium. And with so many different things going on across all facets of their lives, I can certainly understand how not having to worry about the stress of figuring out how to pay for rent would have maybe fallen by the wayside because you had so many other stressful events right in front of you."
At the Deschutes County Court, Heiss says an increasing number of eviction cases are being filed. The court calendar shows 16 initial hearings over the next month for eviction cases.
"We spoke with the court mediator at Deschutes County last week, and she said they are seeing an increase in filings. Obviously, with the moratorium for cause filings were always allowable. But they're seeing some more filings for nonpayment of rent," Heiss said.
As the Source reported in 2018, eviction cases often don't have favorable outcomes for tenants, for among other things, failure to attend court.
"It's sad to see people be fearful and hide from that when the reality is they may be directed to apply for assistance," Heiss said.
Analysis from Quote Wizard this week found that 18% of Oregonians say they are at threat of eviction, 11% are behind on rent and that Black and Hispanic people were more likely to be at risk of eviction.