Oregon’s ban on evicting tenants from their homes expires at the end of the year unless the Legislature can go into special session amid a deadly pandemic.
A bipartisan bill extending the moratorium through June 2021 has been written. It also creates a $100 million fund to reimburse landlords for some of their tenants’ back rent.
The Landlord-Based Assistance Program is a compromise hammered out between House Interim Housing Committee Chair Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, and Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, with input from landlord and tenant advocates.
It’s ready to be fast-tracked in a December special session of the Legislature.
The main problem: No special session has been scheduled. The regular session of the Legislature does not start until Jan. 19.
Waiting would allow the eviction moratorium and other key unemployment and health care programs to expire with the New Year. When the current deadlines were set, many lawmakers thought COVID-19 would be under control if not cured. Instead, its growing at a faster rate than any time this year.
“We had no idea the pandemic would continue into 2021,” said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene.
With hoped-for federal aid never arriving, the only way to head off the chaos of a sudden end to programs is for the state to step in with a stop-gap fix.
Gov. Kate Brown could call a special session, the third of 2020. Lawmakers have twice come to the Capitol despite risks of infection. But with case rates skyrocketing across Oregon, testing their luck a third time would be difficult and dangerous, not only for lawmakers, but for even a pared down version of the usual army of staffers and workers required when the Legislature meets.
Brown could take the unprecedented move of declaring COVID-19 a “catastrophic disaster,” which could allow lawmakers to hold a remote session without coming to the Capitol.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has said rent stabilization is a primary goal of any special session.
The state projects more than 82 percent of tenants have paid rent during the crisis. Nationally, the amount owed by the average renter is $2,700.