By Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle
Landlords are filing more court evictions monthly than they did before the COVID pandemic, though the number of evictions trended down after the Legislature passed a law giving tenants more time to make up late rent.
That’s according to a presentation lawmakers on the Senate Housing and Development Committee heard from the Oregon Law Center, which advocated for eviction protections. The group’s legislative advocacy director, Sybil Hebb, warned lawmakers that the number of evictions may increase if the state doesn’t provide more money for emergency rent assistance: The $88 million lawmakers set aside this spring is on pace to run out by next summer, with about a year left in the two-year budget cycle.
In 2019, Oregon landlords filed an average of about 1,560 eviction suits each month. A pandemic-related eviction moratorium lasted through June 2021, and tenants with pending applications for rent assistance were protected from eviction through June 2022.
Those limits meant the number of evictions plummeted in 2020 and 2021, then skyrocketed when the protections phased out in late summer 2022. Between October 2022 and March 2023, landlords filed an average of more than 2,000 evictions each month, and 87% of them were for not paying rent.
House Bill 2001, which took effect in late March, requires landlords to give tenants 10 days notice when filing for eviction for nonpayment of rent, rather than the previously allowed 72 hours. Those notices must include information on where tenants can find rent assistance and legal assistance for court proceedings. And the new law extended eviction court deadlines, giving tenants at least a month between the initial complaint and a trial to come up with the overdue rent and stay in their homes.
Since the law, more eviction filings have ended with dismissals – landlords get paid and tenants stay in their homes. About 50% of cases were dismissed in September, compared to 28% of cases in January, according to the Oregon Law Center.
“The outcomes for tenants are far better than they were during the time period when there was no protection in place earlier this year,” Hebb said.
Housing advocates have pushed for more rent assistance because it’s cheaper to keep people in their homes than to rehouse families who have been evicted.
In Marion and Polk counties, rent assistance has helped about 6,000 families stay in their homes, said Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. The average two-bedroom apartment rent in Salem is $1,500, he said, but many of the people who receive aid are paying closer to $1,875 per month.
People who benefit most from rent assistance usually earn too much to qualify for other aid, like Section 8 vouchers, but they don’t make enough to afford ever-increasing rents.
“It’s those individuals who don’t qualify for those resources, just the next tick up on that income scale,” Jones said.
A household would need to earn $75,000, more than the median household income in the area, to spend 30% or less of its income on housing at an $1,875 rent.
Lawmakers are expected to approve more money for housing production and homelessness assistance during the 35-day legislative session that begins in February.
This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.