Only $10 Million of the $152 Million Requested in Rent Assistance Since May 19 Has Been Distributed

By Sophie Peel, Willamette Week
August 14, 2021 at 2:50 pm PDT

The state was flooded with rental assistance money from the federal government this spring: a pool of $280 million available to renters to help pay past, current and future rent through the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

But the latest numbers from Oregon Community and Housing Services, the state agency running the program, show that that money is reaching renters at a trickle.

The figures verify what local community action agencies, which have been largely tasked with processing applications and doling out the money, have warned the state all along: We can’t do this quickly with the resources we have.

Only 11% of renters in Multnomah County who requested rental assistance are in the final review stage. Only 306 applicants (out of the 10,221 people who applied) have actually been submitted for funding—a phrase meaning they’ve been approved for funding, relief money is on the way, or relief money has already been delivered.

Seventy-four percent of renters in Multnomah County who requested assistance have not yet had their applications even looked at yet.

OHCS did not respond to WW’s request for comment.

Statewide, only $10.3 million has reached renters and landlords across Oregon out of almost $200 million of rent and utilities that has been requested. In other words, only 2,797 households have been approved for rental assistance out of almost 27,000 who applied.

The low numbers are not entirely surprising.

In Multnomah County, there are over 40 local nonprofits and community action agencies responsible for processing applications and doling out the money to renters and landlords. But those agencies are often understaffed.

In response to the slow pace earlier this month, OHCS announced on Aug. 4 it was hiring a third-party vendor to help staff local agencies to process applications more quickly. The agency signaled its intent to more than double its current number of staff and contractors to process applications.

“This unprecedented move will ensure applications are processed as quickly as possible and will provide much needed support to local administrators and the Oregonians they serve,” the press release read, adding that the agency was concerned about the snail’s pace of rent getting into the hands of landlords.

But local community action agency leaders have been warning of this outcome for months.

On Aug. 11, after Street Roots first reported the meager numbers, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, executive director and CEO of the Urban League—one of the agencies tasked with distributing checks—wrote on Twitter: “We explained to state and county officials that their approach to this eviction prevention assistance was flawed and would hamstring our effort to *quickly* help landlords and their tenants under threat of eviction. They replied, ‘You can do it!’”

Clackamas, Jackson, Multnomah and Washington counties have the smallest percentage of applications that have been submitted for funding: 2%, 3%, 3% and 5%, respectively.

In Multnomah County, renters have a 90-day eviction moratorium in place so long as they provide proof to their landlord that they’ve applied for rental assistance.

Sophie Peel is a Portland native who earned a Journalism degree from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia where she reported on education, poverty and politics. She worked for NPR under a fellowship following graduation, and then freelanced for Willamette Week as well as a national publication before returning to the paper full time. View story's original link: