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A Proposal To Extend Oregon’s Eviction Ban Faces An Uphill Battle In The Senate

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Bradley W. Parks
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OPB
State Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, in the Oregon Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Salem, Ore.

Some Democratic Senators are skeptical of the proposal, which could doom its chances at passage.

For thousands of Oregonians unable to pay their rent, the next four weeks will be crucial.

With a statewide eviction ban set to lapse on Dec. 31, many are wondering if they’ll get an eviction notice on New Year’s Day. Housing advocates are warning of a tsunami of evictions and homelessness.

But the fate of the most prominent legislative proposal to forestall those evictions — and to ensure landlords are paid part of what they’re owed — is in question.

Senate Democrats are divided over a House proposal to extend the state’s eviction ban by an additional six months, warning outcomes could be dire for property owners. The disagreement could derail an unprecedented special session that legislative leaders and Gov. Kate Brown have discussed holding virtually at some point this month.

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Bradley W. Parks
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OPB
State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, is working up a proposal to offer landlords tax credits if they forgive unpaid rent.

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, said the House’s proposal appears to be “a reasonable approach” that balances the needs of tenants and landlords. But Beyer hasn’t seen the bill either, he said, and worries other bills lawmakers have floated could complicate and draw the session out.

Beyer also pointed out a reality that could sap some urgency from a special session: the governor could unilaterally extend the eviction moratorium via executive order, as she’s done in the past.

“I think, quite frankly, if she were to extend it until say March and landlords challenged it, it would probably take them that long to get through the courts anyway and that would give the Legislature time to deal with it,” Beyer said.

At least one Democrat is pursuing an alternative to the proposal to extend the state’s eviction moratorium. State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, has been working up a bill that would offer landlords relief if they forgive renters’ overdue payments. That idea relies on credits landlords could receive against future income taxes, and has the backing of at least one major landlord group, Multifamily NW.

“This has to be equitable on both sides,” said Johnson, adding that her bill “comes closer than other proposals that have been offered.”

But Johnson’s proposal would not be taken up until next year, when lawmakers meet for a regular session that begins Jan. 19. Tenant advocates say Oregon could face a wave of evictions as of Jan. 1, if the current moratorium is allowed to lapse.

On Friday, those who support extending the eviction ban held a press conference to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers. The first person to speak was a Portland tenant named Mike Grigsby-Lane, who said his husband died in May, ending the household’s sole source of income.

“I sold everything I could think of,” Grigsby-Lane said. “I used savings. I used all of my retirement. I cut back on absolutely everything — medicine, food. I’m now a couple months behind, and I’m not sure what to do here.”

Grigsby-Lane and others in the call painted a dire picture of renters left without options by COVID-19, and said they would face a black mark of eviction on their records without an extension.

“I can get back on my feet,” Grigsby-Lane said. “But what I do know… is that COVID-19 is not going to magically end at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31.”

While Brown had sounded confident in the prospects for a special session in comments Tuesday, the governor said Friday she continues to meet with lawmakers about the idea.

“I want to see support, frankly, from Democrats and Republicans … and hopefully we will know in the next couple of days,” Brown said.

Republican Senators’ positions on an eviction extension weren’t clear Friday, though they had met to discuss the mechanics of a remote session, a caucus spokeswoman said.

Democratic senators are expected to meet next week to discuss the matter. When they do, they’re likely to hear strong support for a session from some in their ranks.

Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, who owns a couple of small rental properties himself, said Thursday that lawmakers must act swiftly to keep people in their homes.

“I wonder if people who don’t want to come in have really tried to picture what Oregon looks like in January and February if there is no extension of the moratorium,” Golden said. “Can you imagine the current status quo, except colder weather, likely more disease and significantly more people on the streets?”

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart, Lauren Dake