A Salem apartment with notice on the door about the end of the state's eviction moratorium (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

A Wednesday deadline for Oregon renters to seek assistance through a state program means thousands of Marion County residents will instead have to apply through the county, which has been slow to give out its share of federal funds.

Oregon has two sets of federal funding to aid renters who lost income during the Covid pandemic. The Wednesday deadline applies to funding run through Oregon Housing and Community Services, which gave $15 million to the Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency to distribute in Marion and Polk counties.

The agency spent that money down weeks ago and sent out the last checks on Nov. 23. Since then, they have taken over the process for Yamhill, Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties, where local community action agencies have been much slower to distribute the funding, said Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency.

Jones said the agency provided rental assistance to 2,113 households in Marion and Polk counties, and around 4,000 households are on a waitlist.

The Wednesday deadline won’t impact a separate set of rental assistance funding Oregonians can still apply for that went to local governments including Marion County, which got about $10.4 million.

As of Oct. 31, the county had spent just 4% of its $10.4 million. That’s by far the least among all of the local jurisdictions that got federal funding, with the others ranging from 28% to 85% spent, according to federal Treasury Department data, which doesn't yet show November figures.

County spokesperson Jon Heynen wrote in an email that as of Nov. 30, Marion County had spent about 8% of those funds, or $857,700. Of 844 households that applied, 368 have fully submitted paperwork and 182 have been paid.

Other local governments which received federal funding were the city of Portland and Clackamas, Lane, Multnomah and Washington counties. 

County spokesperson Jon Heynen wrote in an email that Marion County’s deadline to spend down the $10.4 million is September 2022.

“We will continue to accept applications at least until that point,” he said. “We still have funding available, and we are focused on outreach to get the word out to the community that these funds are available through our program.”

The state had initially planned to allow counties to use state software to process applications. But Heynen said around late April, county officials learned that was no longer the case, and they needed to find a contractor. Marion County signed a contract with software company Yardi on July 1 and launched its rent assistance program Aug. 1.

“Based on the date we actually launched our program, we have not been slower than other jurisdictions,” Heynen wrote in an email. “We have been relatively fast considering the challenges with no existing program/case auditing infrastructure already in place, and having to seek a third party vendor to do case management.”

Heynen said the time it takes for applicants to get rent assistance depends on how fast they and their landlords upload their required documents. “If applicants are responsive, the turnaround is about two weeks,” he said in an email.

The Wednesday deadline only applies to funding run through Oregon Housing and Community Services, which will stop accepting rental assistance applications for at least six weeks at 11:59 p.m.

At a press briefing Wednesday, executive director Margaret Salazar said the agency will continue processing applications during that time that were submitted before the deadline. They will prioritize applications that have passed the renter’s “safe harbor” period - which is 60 or 90 days depending on the county - where their landlord couldn’t evict them or take them to court if they provided documentation showing they’d applied for rental assistance.

After most of the funding run through Oregon Housing and Community Services was spent down, the agency in mid-November started spending another set of federal funding for rental assistance. This time, instead of giving it to local community action agencies to distribute, it will go through Boston-based firm Public Partnerships, LLC.

Jones said he wished Oregon Housing and Community Services would have allowed his agency to distribute the funds locally as they did before.

“We were the first community action (agency) statewide to get this money spent,” said. “They believe because of performance issues statewide that they just can't do that. So, they're going to try it on their own, and that’s high-stakes poker.”

Salazar said at the briefing that in many parts of the country, local service providers are spending down rental assistance funding faster than their states’ programs. “In Oregon, that's flipped on its head. The only program that has spent down faster than the state program is Multnomah County,” she said. “In our state, we have a lot of the local programs that just aren't aren't quite getting there yet.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that she will call a special session of the state Legislature Dec. 13 to address ways to prevent evictions of renters.

Brown proposed extending eviction "safe harbor" protections for anyone who has applied for rental assistance, making sure landlords are paid fully for their owed rent, providing up to $90 million in additional rent assistance for low-income renters through the winter, and providing $100 million to transition to long-term, locally distributed eviction prevention services, according to a Tuesday news release.

“We're looking carefully at what might come out of the special session, and if the legislature does put more dollars in place … some of those strong local partners will be really important,” Salazar said at the briefing. “Local partners like mid Willamette Valley Community Action (Agency) are continuing to do eviction prevention and diversion work, which is absolutely critical.” 

This story was updated after Marion County provided November figures for rental assistance.

 Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!