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Oregon Senate votes to extend grace period for past-due rent

April 14, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Senate voted in favor of a bill Wednesday that would give tenants struggling with financial hardships due to the pandemic more time to pay past-due rent.

Currently, tenants have until July to pay back rent, but under the proposed bill, tenants would have until Feb. 28, 2022. The bill passed with a vote of 25-5 and will move to Oregon’s House of Representatives for consideration.

“We have all heard the stories of Oregonians without work, who have lost income or who have lost much of their income through no fault of their own — because of a global health crisis,” said Sen. Jeff Golden, an Ashland Democrat.

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Senate Bill 282 also would protect renters from the long-term impacts of not making payments on time by barring reporting to consumer credit agencies and removing back rents from consideration when submitting future rental applications. The bill would also bar potential landlords from screening out applicants based on COVID-era evictions and allow the sealing of evictions during COVID from a tenant’s record.

Additionally, the bill relaxes occupancy limits as lawmakers say some Oregon residents have needed to stay with friends and family due to financial or safety situations during the pandemic. However, the bill does not extend the current eviction moratorium past June 30 and does not forgive back rent.

In March, more than 17% — or nearly 158,000 Oregon renters who answered a survey — said they were not caught up on their rent payments, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent Household Pulse Survey.

In addition, 11% of Oregon renters who answered the survey said they have no confidence that they will be able to pay the next months rent.

Among those struggling is Chevelle Barham, a single-mother and Oregon hairstylist who said, in her written testimony to lawmakers to support the bill, that she has drained her savings and still owes $5,000 in rent.

“The last couple of months I’ve been receiving notices from my landlord, pressuring me to pay. But how can I? I don’t even know when I’ll be able to work again,” Barham wrote in her letter. “I’ve already had to take out loans just to get by, to make sure my daughter and I have food on the table. This isn’t my fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. I didn’t choose to not pay rent. The more debt that I accrue, the more I’m going to owe at once.”

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Opponents of the bill argue that the measure would hurt landlords and is “a band-aid solution” for tenants.

“Yes, we all agree that there needs to be more affordable housing, but putting this responsibility on the backs of the private sector is not the solution,” Val Thorpe, an Oregon rental property owner wrote in her testimony on the bill. “Landlords are the backbone of affordable rental units and they also need help.”

During a special session in December, lawmakers established a $200 million relief fund for landlords and tenants — with most of the money set aside for tenants.

Lawmakers have also pointed out that Oregon is in line to receive $100 million from federal rental assistance funds approved late last year, along with more than $200 million in federal funds from President Joe Biden’s pandemic recovery plan.

Housing continued to be a top priority during the legislative session with lawmakers presenting 17 housing-focused bills in March that included $535 million in new state investments for increasing affordable housing, addressing homelessness, and supporting homeownership.

Oregon’s House voted in favor of a bill last week that, if passed by the Senate, would reinstate and extend the state’s moratorium on foreclosures until Sept. 1.

“While we are on the road to recovery, many are still in crisis,” said Golden.

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Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues