Some Oregon tenants are losing protection against evictions as the state pauses applications for state help with rent. (Getty Images)

SALEM - The state agency in charge of helping Oregonians cover their rent has nearly run through the $289 million it received from the federal government and will stop accepting applications Dec. 1.

A six-week pause in accepting applications for rent help that was announced Friday doesn’t just mean tenants who fall short on December rent won’t receive state help. They also will no longer be legally protected against eviction.

State officials said that any Oregon renters who haven’t already applied for rental assistance and won’t be able to pay their December rent should apply quickly because applications close at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1. The application is available online at https://www.oregonrentalassistance.org/.

To date, the state has covered rent payments for 19,613 Oregon households and has more than 20,000 pending applications. The payments cover up to 12 months of past-due rent and three months of future rent.

Margaret Salazar, director of the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, said during a Friday news conference that the shutoff of applications comes as her agency waits to find out if the fate of its request to the U.S. Treasury Department for more money to help Oregon renters.

“We are shifting to advocating for more federal funding, and we’re processing applications that we currently have in the queue,” Salazar said. “We need to make sure that we have clear commitments from the U.S. Department of Treasury on when and how much additional funding we may receive for this program.”

Immediate assistance isn’t coming for Oregon tenants who aren’t already in line with a request for state aid. Officials didn’t have an estimate of how many renters or households could be left out. For weeks, tenant advocates and some legislators, including House Speaker Tina Kotek, have called for a legislative special session to reinstate an eviction moratorium that expired this summer, allocate additional state money to help with rent or otherwise change policies to keep more Oregon tenants in their homes. 

After Friday’s announcement, Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement that she spent the past several weeks talking with legislators and will continue those conversations with a goal of holding a special session “in the upcoming weeks.”

“Every Oregonian deserves a warm, safe, dry place to call home – and during a public health crisis it has been critical to ensure that Oregonians stay housed,” Brown said. “That is why I have worked closely with the Oregon Legislature since the beginning of this pandemic to provide a range of resources to support both renters and their landlords.”

As governor, Brown can call the legislature into a special session at will. Instead of a special session, the Legislature will meet in virtual committees next week for “legislative days,” a periodic gathering during the months between sessions to discuss issues without taking action.

Rental assistance funds have been slow to reach Oregonians as the department dealt with an influx of funds and requests. In addition to the $289 million in federal funding, the agency also received $200 million in state funding last fall. That state money ran out in June.

In total, the department has paid tenants and landlords just over $400 million since the start of the pandemic – more than it doled out in the entire last decade, Salazar said. In the past several weeks, it upped its pace and is now paying about $10 million to $12 million each week. 

A vendor hired by the department is adding more staff to process applications faster, Salazar said. In the meantime, she’s counting on landlords to refrain from evicting tenants. 

“We’re also counting on landlords to do the right thing as we process remaining applications,” Salazar said. “We have delivered record levels of assistance to landlords in this past year, again, more resources in this past year than in the past decade combined, and we’ve maintained the foreclosure moratorium which helps landlords to get relief from their mortgages.”

Any Oregon renters who haven’t yet applied for rental assistance but think they won’t be able to make December rent should apply quickly because applications close at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, she said. The city of Portland, as well as Clackamas, Lane, Marion, Multnomah and Washington counties, administer their own rental assistance programs and haven’t closed applications.

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