‘Tip of the iceberg’: County could see budget forecast drop for more rent aid if state protections end

‘Tip of the iceberg’: County could see budget forecast drop for more rent aid if state protections end

10 November 2022

When Juan González Monteiro received a 72-hour eviction notice for non-payment of rent, it felt like a punch in the gut. Despite working both a full-time job and a part-time job, he still struggled to meet his needs. He didn’t know what to do, or what would happen next.

González Monteiro said that in his home country of Cuba, he was raised in a community that favored strong protections for low-income renters. He realized that society was supposed to help those struggling to have a roof over their heads. Now that he was experiencing it personally, his heart began to sink.

Everything changed when a case worker at Bienstar de la Familia, a program in Multnomah County’s County Human Services Department (DCHS), stepped in to stop his eviction with an offer of rental assistance.

“I feel blessed and finally able to breathe with the help he gave me,” he said.

Gonzales Monteiro took time off from work to show his support on Tuesday, November 8, briefing the board of county commissioners, where housing experts from DCHS and the Joint Office for Homeless Services stressed the urgent need for continuation and expansion of rent assistance Diya and eviction prevention programs that have helped thousands of people in their homes.

The briefing provided an update on the county’s COVID-19 emergency rent assistance response so far for fiscal year 2023. It also includes an overview of resources that are allocated for the fiscal year, the way resources are deployed, system priorities, and projections of future gaps in eviction prevention resources in Multnomah County.

Right now, Multnomah County is able to process approximately $57 million in emergency rent assistance, using federal funds, local funds, and resources from Metro Supportive Housing Services Major. But as the need in the community continues to grow as COVID-19 protection ends, program leaders said they need about $14.3 million more to cover rent assistance needs during the rest of the fiscal year.

Chair Deborah Cuffoury Pledged to consider closing the current funding gap when the county receives its next budget forecast this fall.

“We are looking at all of our revenue collections as we approach the decline forecast,” said Chair Kafori. “Closing that $14 million gap, that’s definitely a very high priority for me.”

Renter protection terminates if it is not met

The economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated housing instability for many homes, especially communities of color.

But during the first two years of the pandemic, state and local eviction tenant protection and eviction moratoriums played a key role in helping homes stay put and prevent mass homelessness. Those protections have since expired.

“The pandemic presented challenges for renters and inequalities that did not begin and end with the pandemic [with the pandemic]Especially for communities of color that are hardest hit,” said Peggy Samolinsky, who directs the youth and family services division of the county human services division.

Around 13,000 families received rent assistance between July 2021 and June 2022,A total of $77.3 million in rent assistance was distributed among them. Of those homes, 33% had a 10-day eviction notice. About 80% of the recipients were black, indigenous, and other people of color.

Now, as many tenants continue to struggle to pay rent, the legal protections, if any, between non-payment and eviction are few. Also, the rent support resources for FY 2023 (July 2022 to June 2023) are half as compared to the previous financial year. The total rent support budget for this year is $52.6 million.

Delgado said Multnomah County is collaborating with more than 40 community-based partners to take advantage of the limited rent assistance resources available and aim to prevent as many evictions as possible.

Commissioner Sharon Myran She added that she “appreciates all the wonderful outreach providers who are showing up at those doors and being a beacon of hope in people’s lives.”

A commitment of $9.7 million has been made to 2,310 families by October 26. Of those serving, 74.6% identified as black, indigenous or people of color.

“It’s inspiring to see how work really makes a difference,” Commissioner Sushila Jayapali Told. “And we see what’s needed.”

Outreach teams going door to door to stop evictions

Eviction prevention outreach activist Faseh Abdullahi with Benestar is among those who are being helped by giving eviction notices. He said that he meets many people daily who are unaware of the resources that hold people.

Now that the “safe harbor” protections that protect renters from non-payment evictions are in place, Abdullahi said his team has seen evictions proceed very quickly. In response to the changing landscape, a new Rapid Response team is working to process rental assistance in just a few days.

Abdullahi and his team of outreach workers visit the Multnomah County Courthouse four days a week and home visits five days a week to provide assistance to those who are being evicted in the hope of keeping them in their homes. To date, he has visited 801 homes in 591 Multnomah County families against whom court cases were filed for non-payment of rent.

“Many people before us are shocked and surprised that this kind of service is available to them,” Abdullahi said. “We meet a lot of people who didn’t know where to go and where to find this type of service.”

Leslie Calderone, who immigrated to the United States from Honduras in 1989, has lived in Portland since 2006. She lives in the Clara Vista Apartments in the Coolie neighborhood full time. Bienestar is located across the street from her apartment.

Caldaron was already on a fixed income. Then, last year, she contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalised. Next thing she knew, her rent was due and she was in grave danger of losing her accommodation.

Fortunately, Calderón was a regular at Bienstar and a frequent visitor to their weekly “mercado” food exchange. Based on her close relationship with Bienstar, an outreach worker informs her about rent assistance. After joining Caldaron, the outreach worker helped him use the rent he had. He also provided assistance with utilities and food aid. She said she can’t imagine what she would do without BienStar.

“I was overjoyed and relieved that someone reached out to me and offered to help me with my outstanding rent,” she said. “Just hearing from Bienstar that they’re willing to help brought me back to life.”

Current evictions are just “the tip of the iceberg”

Despite Mulnomah County’s success in preventing thousands of evictions, the current situation is just “the tip of the iceberg,” said Becky Strauss, a managing attorney at the Oregon Law Center, which co-operates its eviction defense project. An estimate by the University of Washington found that nearly five times the number of people in the eviction court are displaced outside the eviction court.

Today, Multnomah County eviction filings exceed pre-pandemic levels. This is attributable to a number of reasons, including non-payment of the fare grace period ending in March 2022 and the termination of Safe Harbor Security in July 2022.

“Landlords are no longer required to accept money,” Strauss said. “And we are seeing that a good amount of our cases are just coming up against a standstill where landlords are refusing to take money. We are there and ready to write a check.”

Last month, 752 cases were registered for eviction due to non-payment of rent. Census Pulse data also shows that, currently, nearly one in five Multnomah County renters do not hold a rent. This translates to an unfulfilled need of about $118 million.

“The other thing we have to mention is also how much does it cost to pay rent in Portland right now,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pedersen Told. “We have the 14th most expensive city in the country in terms of rent for one- or two-bedroom apartments.”

The county’s Office of Government Relations continues to advocate for more funding and policy changes at the state level as well. For now, the legislators are looking forward. The county is focused on advocating for a better system for those unable to afford rent.

“The information shared today really strongly indicates: the problem is not resolved and it’s still a huge issue,” said county government relations director Jason Black.

“We know the need for rent assistance still exists and is enormous,” said Yesenia Delgado, a family systems program specialist at the United Office. “And the unfortunate part is that tenants don’t have the security they used to. And, of course, as we all know, once someone is evicted, it’s hard to find a new place to live.”

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