With Oregon’s eviction moratorium expiring in less than two months — and Congress stalled on adding rent support to a new COVID-19 bill — governments in the Portland metro area are investing millions of dollars to help thousands of families on the edge of losing their housing.
The Portland Housing Bureau, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Multnomah County’s Department of County Human Services, and regional housing authority Home Forward have banded together to deploy $29 million in rent assistance to COVID-impacted households throughout Multnomah County over the next several months. Those funds include $25 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Renters have until March 2021 to repay any back rent they accrued during the eviction moratorium, which lasts through Sept. 30, but starting Oct. 1, renters will need to resume paying their rent every month, or risk eviction.
That’s why the COVID-19 Rent Relief Program (CVRRP) is dedicating state, local and federal CARES Act funding to prevent evictions caused by the financial and health impacts of COVID-19. The program will provide up to three months of rent assistance to eligible households, prioritizing rent payments due on and after Oct. 1.
Because the COVID crisis has magnified the existing economic and health disparities for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) communities resulting from systemic and institutionalized racism, resources will be primarily deployed through culturally specific agencies and other community organizations to effectively reach and serve BIPOC households and communities.
Allocations of CVRRP rent assistance include:
- $11.3 million will be distributed through the Short-Term Rent Assistance (STRA) network of 19 community partners. Two-thirds of the funding will be allocated through culturally specific organizations serving BIPOC communities.
- $5.5 million will be distributed through 211info for general access. To help families better access this assistance, Multnomah County has also invested in new staff to help process applications. That support will help 211info and Bienestar de la Familia, a culturally specific program of Multnomah County serving Latino/Latinx and African immigrant communities.
- $4.5 million will be distributed to the Portland Housing Bureau’s affordable housing providers, prioritizing BIPOC residents and residents with a disability.
- $1 million will be distributed through Worksystems Inc. partner network, prioritizing BIPOC households seeking job training and placement services through employment programs.
In addition, partners in this program are committed to growing the network of organizations to conduct outreach, eligibility, and intake beyond those who traditionally provide Short-Term Rent Assistance.
Earlier this year, Multnomah County awarded the Joint Office $1 million from its general fund to expand culturally specific homelessness services. Because of COVID-19, a portion of those funds will be used to help culturally specific providers add capacity around distributing rental assistance.
And today, the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) released a Request for Interest to identify organizations serving BIPOC communities who can broaden the reach of the traditional rent-assistance system to help deploy an additional $6.75 million of rent assistance.
Additionally, new partner organizations will be identified through a separate solicitation to distribute $15 million in City funds in the form of $500 VISA gift cards. Those gift cards will assist impacted Portlanders with dependent care costs, food, household supplies, medical needs, rent and utility payments, transportation, and other household expenses. An estimated 80-90% of funds will be provided to BIPOC culturally specific organizations.
“It’s vital that we address the lived experience of those among us who are most vulnerable to this pandemic. Racial disparities in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are growing. Nationally and locally, people of color are more likely to be unemployed or working in essential, frontline jobs where they are at high risk of exposure,” Mayor Wheeler said.
“We know these funds won’t go far enough to meet the tremendous need in our community, but we’re being strategic and intentional in seeking out partnerships that will help ensure we are getting assistance into the hands of those hardest hit by this crisis.”
In all, the shared investment is expected to help more than 4,300 households with rent assistance between now and December 31. But with more than 21,400 households across Portland and Multnomah County, on average, unable to pay rent in a given month, meeting the current need would cost more than $30 million a month — well beyond what state and local governments can afford without more federal help.
“Making sure everyone has housing during and after this pandemic is a matter of public health and basic humanity. Congress must include sufficient rent assistance in a new federal stimulus package,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said.
“We need you to help us call on Congress to do the right thing. Our local members of Congress understand what’s at stake, and they share our urgency — but their colleagues need to hear from you. If Congress doesn’t rise to this occasion, millions of households across the country, not just the thousands of people at risk in our community, will be at greater and greater risk.”
Those in need of assistance should call 2-1-1 or visit www.211info.org/multco-rent.