Dec 18, 2023 - News

Housing advocates push for more rental assistance

Illustration of a crumpled-up eviction notice in a trash can.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Eviction filings in Oregon continue to exceed pre-pandemic levels and could increase if lawmakers do not set aside additional funds for emergency rental assistance, according to local housing experts.

Why it matters: The state's housing affordability crisis, coupled with rising inflation and idling housing production, has led many tenants to fall behind on rent, putting them at risk of losing their homes, Sybil Hebb, director of legislative advocacy at the Oregon Law Center, tells Axios.

  • "Homelessness rates are driven by housing prices and affordability," she says. "None of that is going to get solved overnight, but we know it's twice as expensive to get people rehoused once they've lost housing."

Driving the news: The Oregon Law Center and several other nonprofit service providers — including Fair Shot and Stable Homes for Oregon Families — are planning to ask lawmakers for an additional $45 million for eviction protection in the next legislative session, which begins in February.

  • The groups originally asked for $100 million during the last session, but only $55 million out of Gov. Tina Kotek's $2.5 billion budget for Oregon Housing and Community Services was allocated for rental assistance and eviction protections for the next two years.

Advocates say those funds have all but dried up within the last few months.

  • "We have put those resources to good use, but it is rapidly going out the door," Hebb says. "We know we are not going to make it with the currently allocated resources."
  • Lauren Everett, a spokesperson for Portland Tenants United, says she hasn't "heard of there being any rent assistance still available."

By the numbers: Prior to the pandemic, in 2019 and early 2020, Oregon landlords filed an average of 1,500 eviction lawsuits a month, according to state data collected by Evicted in Oregon, an eviction tracking project from Portland State University.

  • From October 2022 to October 2023, an average of 2,000 eviction lawsuits were filed each month — 82% of those cases were for nonpayment, Emily Rena-Dozier, an attorney at the Oregon Law Center, tells Axios.

State of play: In March, a new law requiring landlords to wait 10 days (instead of the previous 72-hour requirement) before filing non-payment eviction cases has resulted in more dismissals in part because tenants now have more time to find rental and legal assistance, Rena-Dozier said.

  • "The dismissal rates that we're seeing, where basically half of the non payment cases get dismissed and the tenants hold on to their housing, is only possible because of rent assistance," she said.

Of note: In May, Multnomah County voters overwhelmingly rejected a local capital gains tax that would've supported tenants facing eviction with legal aid.

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