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Oregon will get another $16M for rent assistance program

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Federal government’s last-minute announcement will allow the state to keep its application portal open for one more week and help an additional estimated 2,200 households.

An eleventh-hour announcement by the federal government means Oregon can keep its emergency rental assistance program open for applications one more week — potentially helping 2,200 more households.

Oregon Housing and Community Services announced on Tuesday that the U.S. Treasury Department will give the state another $16 million to help those who continue struggling to pay rent or catch up on back rent.

The state housing agency was forced to close its application portal on Dec. 1 after running out of money; the initial $289 million it was allocated went to a historic number of requests for assistance.

Oregon lawmakers returned to Salem briefly in December to put an additional $215 million toward the rent assistance program and other strategies to prevent evictions.

That money allowed the portal to be reopened on Jan. 26 but was scheduled to close again on March 14. The agency says this new round of federal funding will allow them to help an additional estimated 2,200 households.

The state has received more than 24,000 new applications since the portal reopened a month and a half ago. New applications will be processed in order based on those whose need is most urgent to keeping them housed.

“Our message to U.S. Treasury remains loud and clear: if other states have money they can’t use — send those dollars to Oregon,” said Jill Smith, the state’s interim director of housing stabilization.

According to the agency’s online reporting dashboard, the state has distributed just over $289 million to around 40,000 households. An additional $208 million has been requested by more than 18,000 households whose applications are pending.

The agency has touted itself as a top performer among states with federally funded rent assistance programs, and state housing leaders have known for months Oregon would receive additional funding, but the timing was unclear.

Despite a record number of dollars moving out the door in a short time period, the program has suffered hiccups. The early days of the program saw widespread technical issues with the application system, and many who most needed the dollars were unaware of their eligibility. Distribution of the money fell to a snail’s pace at times and bad checks were cut to both landlords and renters.

The agency also lost its chief executive during its most tumultuous period as former state housing director Margaret Salazar jumped ship for a job with the federal government. Former director of housing stabilization Andrea Bell stepping into the role of acting executive director.

Dozens of lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, called for a performance audit of the agency’s work by Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s office; that’s planned for later this year.

Gov. Kate Brown has made no firm announcement about the future of leadership within the beleaguered state agency. She said she’s thankful for the Biden Administration’s decision to send Oregon more rental aid money.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting