Oregon Housing and Community Services Provides Update on Emergency Rental Assistance Program

SEPT. 3, 2021 (SALEM, ORE.) – Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) provided an update on progress, challenges and actions taken to speed up application processing and fund distribution for the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program (OERAP). 

“While we have nearly quadrupled the amount of OERAP funds distributed since the beginning of August, we still have a ways to go in a short period of time,” said Margaret Salazar, executive director of OHCS. “The steps we’ve taken are working but we are urgently working with counties, local administrators, tenant advocacy organizations, landlords and the courts to ensure Oregon families who have applied for assistance remain housed.” 

OHCS has distributed more than $250 million in emergency rental assistance over the past 18 months for Oregon families. This includes more than $145 million in direct payments landlords have received so far in 2021. These efforts to preserve housing stability play an important role in the broader equitable recovery. 

“Dollars are flowing out every day, and we want to reassure landlords and tenants that additional federal funding is on the way—but it is contingent upon landlords refraining from evicting families that have applied for rental assistance,” said Andrea Bell, director of Housing Stabilization at OHCS.  “We are asking landlords to remain patient as applications get processed.”

Landlords who evict families that have applied for emergency rental assistance automatically halts any distribution of the federal rental assistance funds they would have received on behalf of the household.

Application Processing Update

The state received more than $204 million in federal emergency rental assistance funds for OERAP. The program pays funds directly to landlords to prevent evictions and clear overdue rent for tenants. The state and federal eviction moratoriums ended on June 30, 2021. However, the Oregon State Legislature passed SB 278 which went into effect on July 1. This bill provides tenants 60 days of eviction protection after a tenant notifies their landlord that they have applied for rental assistance. The 60-day window of protection begins at notification, not date of application. Multnomah County, where more than one-third of all applications have been received, passed an ordinance giving tenants 90 days of protection. 

  • The state has received 30,924 completed applications. OHCS vendor Public Partnerships LLC (PPL) is processing 8,500 applications received in the Tri-County area, while counties are still processing the remaining 22,424.
  • Nearly 60% of completed applications (18,029) have been reviewed. Of those applications, approximately 7,000 (22%) applications have been submitted for funding with 5,000 of those already receiving full approval for funding.
  • More than $33 million in funding has been approved for distribution by local program administrators which means that an applications has undergone a full review, received approval from fiscal staff, and a check is on the way or going out within a few days. This number has quadrupled since August 1. Nearly $21 million is reported as paid out, although due to reporting lag the $33 million in approved funding is a better estimate for “checks on the ground.” 
  • OHCS vendor PPL has started processing more than 5,000 of the 8,500 applications since their work began in earnest on August 16. 
  • More than 5,800 completed applications are awaiting a tenant response statewide. PPL and local program administrators are calling and emailing those tenants to ensure their applications can be processed.
  • More than 11,000 applications are incomplete. OHCS is calling and emailing tenants to assist in completing their applications.

The federal government has requested that at least 65% of the federal funds for OERAP be obligated by Sept. 30. OHCS is requesting clarification from U.S. Department of Treasury on how they will work with states like Oregon that have demonstrated demand for the ERA funds and have shown concerted efforts to spend dollars. 

While OHCS vendor PPL have stepped in to process about half of applications in the Tri-County area, some counties continue to lag in processing applications and distributing funds. The agency is working with local administrators to make further adjustments, including requests for increased staffing at the county level and providing additional administrative funds. 

The agency says the criteria established by the federal government makes the application process challenging, along with the adoption of a new technology. Technology issues have been mitigated by PPL‘s processing of applications. OHCS has taken steps to ensure the application process is less burdensome by offering self-attestation forms, digital uploads and other flexibilities. The state must also adhere to fraud prevention guidelines put forth by the U.S. Treasury. OHCS expects to receive another $156 million grant from the federal government in emergency rental assistance. 

The agency is advising anyone who has received an eviction notice to apply right away for emergency rental assistance (if they haven’t already), and to call 211 or contact the Oregon Law Center’s Eviction Defense Project line at 1-888-585-9638 or via email at evictiondefense@oregonlawcenter.org. Tenants can still apply for emergency rental assistance at oregonrentalassistance.org.

The next OHCS media briefing will be held on Friday, Sept. 10. View the full dashboard here.