Patience and social distancing are two requirements for cashing in bottles and cans at Salem's BottleDrop centers. Customers cash in at the center on Northeast Commercial Street on Friday, May 1. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Marion County has the fifth-highest amount of past-due rent of any Oregon county, according to a new data analysis.

Renters in Marion County owe a combined $12.8 million in back rent, just behind what’s owed in Lane County and the three counties that make up the Portland area.

The figures were released by the National Equity Atlas, a project of the University of Southern California Equity Research Institute and PolicyLink, a California-based research and advocacy group. The analysis is based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey as well as the University of Southern California’s Understanding Coronavirus in America Survey.

According to the analysis, 56,000 Oregon households collectively owe $171.3 million in rent or an estimated $3,100 per household. Of those, 40% are people of color, 80% low-income and 70% who have lost employment income.

The figures show that despite signs the pandemic is waning, many Oregonians, particularly low-income workers, are still reckoning with the economic damage caused by the public health crisis.

Last month, Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 282. The bill establishes a grace period for tenants to pay back rent that begins June 30 and lasts through February 2022. During the pandemic, lawmakers and the governor have taken actions intended to prevent renters from losing their housing. The recently signed legislation is intended to prevent a wave of evictions while federal aid is distributed.

“But we know that thousands of Oregonians will be unable to pay July rent,” Kim McCarty, executive director of the Oregon Community Alliance of Tenants, during an online event last week.

In Marion County, an estimated 4,661 households are behind on rent, the fourth-highest total of any county, according to the analysis. Each owed an estimated $2,750.

The National Equity Atlas shows that counties in western Oregon with urban centers have higher concentrations of renters who owe back rent than rural areas. In Polk County, renters weren’t as distressed as their counterparts in Marion County.

In Polk County, 1,015 households were behind on rent, 14th highest of any county, owing a combined $2.9 million. Each owed an estimated $2,863.

On June 1, the Oregon Housing and Community Services opened up $60 million in the final round of the Landlord Compensation Fund. The $200 million program was launched earlier this spring to help landlords partially recoup rent owed by financially struggling tenants.

Other federal relief funds will also be available. Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, told Salem Reporter in April that his agency is expecting $14 million in federal Emergency Rental Assistance.

McCarty said there will be about $400 million in statewide rent relief funds that will need to be spent by September. She said other federal funds must be spent by the end of the year.

“Let’s give ourselves time to really reach those communities that need this funding,” said McCarty, who called on the governor to enact another eviction moratorium.

Lisa Bates, associate professor at Portland State University’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, said that a wave of evictions could cost $1 to $3 billion in costs to the shelter system, transitional housing, child welfare system and emergency room care. 

“Clearly, supporting tenants staying at home is a choice that makes much more sense for our communities, for our families and for the bottom line in the state budget,” she said.

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

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