An apartment building in Salem (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

For the second time, a state agency will open the floodgates on a grant program meant to help landlords recoup rent that’s gone unpaid because of the pandemic.

This time the agency administering the program said it’s fixed the technical glitches that were a source of frustration for landlords during the first round.  

Violet Wilson, a Salem landlord who also serves as the secretary and newsletter editor of the Salem Rental Housing Association, applied for the first round of the $200 million Landlord Compensation Fund, which the Oregon Legislature created in December to help residential landlords who’ve gone months without rent payments.

But Wilson said it took her five days to complete her application because of technical problems on the online portal created by Oregon Housing and Community Services, which is administering the program. She recalled struggling to upload information to the program’s online application portal. Just before the March 2 deadline for the $50 million first round, Wilson said she got a call from staff who helped her complete her application.

“There might be other landlords who don't have five days trying to upload the data, so they gave up,” she said.

On April 29, the second round of Landlord Compensation Fund opened up with $70 million available.

Kate Gonsalves, Oregon Housing and Community Services spokeswoman, said in an email the new program is one of just a few in the country, and Oregon Housing and Community Services has been working with its vendor on software improvements to solve technological challenges. She said that every landlord that wanted to participate in the first round was able to do so.

Gonsalves said that despite the technical glitches (which her agency has worked to fix), the first round was a lifeline for distressed landlords and renters.

Nearly 12,000 households facing financial hardship will have their rent forgiven with the $40 million approved under the first round, she said.

“Because households frequently represent multiple people under one roof including children - the number of people is likely two to three times greater,” she said.

The program covers 80% of back rent going back to April 1, 2020, and requires landlords to forgive the remaining 20%. Applications must include declarations of financial hardship, which protects tenants from eviction through June 30.

Landlords representing over 3,000 buildings applied for funding in the first round, according to Gonsalves. The first round of grants didn’t add up to the $50 million set aside for the first round, so each application will be funded after they’re verified, she said. Of those, 126 buildings in Salem were recommended to be funded by the program, she said.

Wilson, who helps operate her association’s landlord helpline, said the 126 properties that’ll have back rent covered by the program don’t account for the full need in Salem.

She said some landlords didn’t apply because of the initial technical problems. Others have had trouble getting their tenants to fill out paperwork because they’re already overwhelmed or don’t want government assistance, she said. There are also landlords who can’t afford to forgive 20% of back rent, she said.

In the meantime, many tenants are still trying to pay back rent, and some landlords have gone into foreclosure after not having rent for a year, she said.

If applications in the second round exceed the funds available, Oregon Housing and Community Services will use scoring criteria to prioritize applications. The criteria will give preference to applications with a smaller number of rentals and properties with higher uncollected rental debt. Applications are due May 17.

With public health officials hopeful that the pandemic will begin waning this summer, state agencies are trying to push out money through other programs intended to prevent a wave of residential and commercial evictions.

Earlier this month, the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 282, which gives tenants until February 2022 to pay back rent in hopes relief money will reach them before eviction notices.

The Landlord Compensation Fund sets aside $50 million for the Supporting Tenants Accessing Rental Relief program, which is administered by designated social service providers.

Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said that his agency received $3.5 million from the Supporting Tenants Accessing Rental Relief program, about $500,000 of which will go to administrative costs.

He said he’s spent 27% of the funds on about 185 households with an average payment of $4,500. The rest of the funds have been allocated but the agency is waiting on documents for the 3,000 households on its waiting list before sending out the money.

With a June 30 deadline to spend the money, Jones said his agency is spending about a quarter million in rent relief funds each week.

“We have more than enough people to spend down the balance,” he said.

Jones said his agency is also expecting $14 million in federal Emergency Rental Assistance. He said the program can be used to pay back rent as well as 12 to 15 months of rent in advance for low-income families. But he said 65% of these funds need to be spent by September, which Jones said is a tighter timeline.

He said people in low-income jobs, particularly in bars and restaurants, are still struggling, and single mothers face special challenges in finding childcare after the pandemic caused providers to close. But the new program will help stabilize these households for a year, said Jones.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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