There definitely seems to be some competing narratives currently addressing Oregon’s Emergency Rental Assistance program.

Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) is the agency in charge of processing tenants’ applications for assistance. They now say they have most of the $200 million aid package “obligated” and claim to be nearly out of funds. Because of this, they will shut down the program as of December 1st for at least 6 weeks while they can reassess and/or garner new federal dollars for a new round of assistance.

Yet this is happening even though amazingly less than 40% of the money that was allocated for rental assistance has been approved and paid to landlords, as of mid-November.

While they are calling for a halt to pay more aid, OHCS is asking landlords to urgently call tenants to encourage them to apply now! Along with this, Governor Brown is indicating she may call a special legislative session to adopt even more stringent restrictions on landlords prohibiting the terminations for non-paying tenants, forcing Housing Providers to continue to run their businesses at a loss, with no current income.

Lawmakers have suggested they want to extend the existing “safe harbor” law prohibiting evictions for 60 days when a tenant provides evidence that they applied for assistance, to 120 days! The additional insults to injury are 1) they are not advocating for extending the compensation for loss income from 60 to 120 days, and 2) by shutting down the ability to apply for rental aid, they are consequently eliminating the tenants’ chances for protections under the existing safe harbor law.

Does this sound confusing to you? I am frankly baffled by the logic and efforts being expended.

Fundamentally, to prevent court actions for non-payment of rent, the urgent action should be to radically address the backlog of payments and the problems with the current application process. What needs to happen? Pay the existing aid without delay.  Two major improvements would include making it simpler for the tenants to apply (reducing the 27-page application down to a few paragraphs), and provide access to the application portal by landlords, allowing them to find out the status and correct or complete any data errors, which could help get it processed and approved.

Landlords do not want to evict tenants who owe them money if they know the money is going to be paid. Currently they have no clear way of finding out the status of the funds. The state needs to be more responsive to the existing program instead of banking on another future program and putting more pressure and burdens on the backs of rental property providers.

It seems that what is really needed now is clear accountability from the agency charged with executing the program, not more legislative action.