PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Oregon lawmakers on Monday passed additional safety nets to keep thousands of people currently struggling to pay rent or facing eviction during the pandemic housed and also approved funds for fight against the illegal cultivation of marijuana.
In a special one-day legislative session, lawmakers passed a $ 215 million package, which includes $ 100 million for additional emergency rent assistance for tenants and landlords and funds for help agencies that have struggled to get emergency money to do so faster.
“Most of us here have been fortunate not to be familiar with the urgency, panic and despair that so many people in our communities are currently experiencing. After doing everything in their power and everything they were told to do to stay housed, they are still at risk of losing their shelter and their safety, ”said Representative Wlnsvey Campos, a Democrat.
More than 67,000 Oregon households recently said they felt “not at all confident” that they would be able to cover next month’s bills, according to the most recent US Census Bureau survey. Despite a huge need, this month the statewide rental assistance program stopped supporting new requests after the $ 289 million in federal funds were requested and committed. for tenants. However, due to a backlog, $ 119 million has yet to reach tenants.
Margaret Salazar, the state’s director of social and community services, said Monday that she expects the remaining federal assistance to be administered to tenants in Oregon by March 2022. Further, she believes that the additional rent assistance offered by the state would be administered by June 2022.
Republican lawmakers criticized the “mismanagement” of Oregon’s backlog of housing and community services applications and said the bill did not hold the agency accountable.
“Anyone who understands how to run a business knows that you aren’t spending money on something that doesn’t work and covering inefficiencies by avoiding accountability,” Republican Rep. Bobby Levy said.
Lawmakers also voted to extend the current 60-day eviction protection period. The original law, which the governor signed in June, gives tenants a two-month period during which they cannot be evicted for default of payment, provided they provide proof that they have requested help.
However, an estimated 8,355 households are at risk of eviction as the safe harbor protection keeping them housed has expired as they continue to wait for state aid.
“It would be tragic if the people of Oregon lost their homes because the money available to help them did not reach them on time,” said Representative Julie Fahey, D-West Eugene and Junction City.
The extension will maintain eviction protections for a tenant until their request has been processed – and with no limit to 60 days.
Divergent views on restrictions and security mandates related to COVID-19 were also echoed during Monday’s special session. Senator Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, was escorted out of the chamber after Senate Speaker Peter Courtney ruled his colleague was down and in violation of the rules for refusing to wear a mask. There is a statewide indoor mask warrant in Oregon.
“I have to tell you this is something that makes me sad, very sad Dallas,” Courtney said when Heard refused to put on a mask or leave the room. “Assuming the mask mandate still exists during (the next legislative session), we will need to take action against people who do not wear masks and get them kicked out before we can.”
Although there were tensions between the two sides, members of the Senate GOP voted in favor of rent assistance and protection against Monday’s evictions. Republican Senator Bill Kennemer described the package as “a legitimate need for this bill and … it is a balance that is appropriate.”
GOP lawmakers claim that “after the Oregon Housing Department’s repeated failures to implement a rental assistance program on time,” Republicans struck a bipartisan deal with majority Democrats to resolve the issue. problem and protect landlords and tenants.
“When we started we were miles from each other,” said Republican Senate Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “We were unwilling to consider passing a law that we believed would cause long-term damage to the rental housing market.”
As part of the deal, $ 5 million will be paid to Oregon Housing and Community Services to expedite the processing of aid applications and $ 10 million will be placed in the Landlord Guarantee Fund.
But keeping Oregonians housed weren’t the only bills that got passed. Others were drought relief, illegal cannabis proliferation, and resettlement support for Afghan refugees.
A bill that received unanimous support from both House and Senate lawmakers was $ 25 million for a comprehensive, state-wide plan to tackle the proliferation of illegal cannabis in the state and to mitigate the associated humanitarian impacts in Oregon.
Authorities say thousands of immigrants working on southern Oregon’s illegal marijuana farms that are run by foreign cartels live in squalid conditions and are sometimes deceived and threatened by their gang bosses.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. Trafficking in human beings and trafficking in the labor of a colleague takes place. People are housed in squalid conditions. It’s just appalling, ”Knopp said. “Farm workers deserve so much better. But unfortunately, it borders on slavery.
Lawmakers also passed $ 100 million to help Oregon residents affected by extreme heat and drought this summer.
Cline is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative Corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.
Sara Cline, The Associated Press