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SARA CLINE Associated Press/Report for America
Published: 13 December 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As the threat of eviction looms over thousands of Oregon households, lawmakers are returning to the state Capitol Monday for a special session to take up a package of bills focused on keeping people housed during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The proposals would allocate $215 million to prevent winter evictions and transition to long-term, locally-delivered eviction prevention services. Out of the proposed funds, $100 million would be for additional emergency rental assistance — for both tenants and landlords.

Eviction ban extension proposed

In addition there is a proposal to extend the current 60-day eviction protection period. The law, which the governor signed in June, grants renters a two-month period in which they cannot be evicted due to lack of payments, as long as they provide proof that they applied for aid.

However an estimated 8,355 households are at risk of eviction, as the safe harbor protection keeping them housed have expired as they continue to wait for aid from the state.

The proposed extension would allow eviction protections to remain in place for a tenant until their application has been processed — and not limited to 60 days.

“At the start of the pandemic we committed to keeping people housed. Today’s package will ensure we keep our word and protect over 10,000 Oregonians from eviction, while keeping landlords whole," Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, and House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland), said in a joint statement.

Despite an overwhelming need, this month the statewide rental assistance program stopped taking new applications after all $289 million of federal funds had been requested and committed to renters.

Bipartisan agreement within reach

Passing bills in the Legislature has proven not to be the smoothest of process between the two parties — where there have been growing divides. Most notably, during September's special session for redistricting — which was marked by a Republican walkout in the House, broken deal by the House Speaker and accusations of gerrymandering political boundaries.

But GOP lawmakers say that “after repeated failures by Oregon’s housing department to timely implement a rental assistance program” Republicans have reached a bipartisan agreement with majority Democrats to fix the problem and protect landlords and renters.

“When we first started, we were miles apart,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp R-Bend.

“We were not willing to entertain coming in to pass legislation that we believed would do long-term damage to the rental housing market."

As part of the agreement, $5 million will be directed to the Oregon Housing and Community Services to speed up the processing of assistance applications and $10 million will be placed into the Landlord Guarantee Fund.

Additional topics to be addressed

But keeping Oregonians housed is not the only topic lawmakers will address.

Brown said additional priorities that lawmakers have agreed to address include drought relief, illegal cannabis proliferation and humanitarian impacts and support for Afghan refugee resettlement.

There is a proposed $100 million to help Oregonians impacted by this summer’s extreme heat and drought conditions. Included in the package is $40 million for an agricultural forgivable disaster loan program, $12 million for the Klamath Basin for domestic well assistance, $9.7 million to address drought relief on Klamath Tribal lands, $10 million for agricultural workers who miss work due to unsafe working conditions resulting from extreme heat or smoke and $9.75 million for irrigation district assistance to offset water user costs.

Lawmakers are also eyeing $25 million for a comprehensive, statewide plan to address the proliferation of illegal cannabis around the state and ease the associated humanitarian impacts and $18 million to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Oregon.

“Special sessions are for emergencies,” Knopp said. “These additional bills will address urgent problems facing Oregonians.

Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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