Multnomah County works to prevent evictions for default as court cases rise
September 27, 2021
County and community leaders delivered their latest progress report on rent assistance and eviction prevention to the County Commissioners Council on Thursday, September 23, detailing a massive effort to prevent evictions without payment and distribute over $ 58 million in emergency rent assistance funds.
The presentation was the fifth in a series of board updates since the county launched a massive campaign in coordination with many community partners to protect thousands of tenants from eviction due to non-payment of the rent.
“It has been almost three months since the statewide moratorium on residential evictions ended, and during that time thousands of tenants in Multnomah County have requested and continue to ask for the resources they need. to avoid expulsion ” President Deborah Kafoury noted. “This council now knows the incredible work of county staff and our partners, as well as the rapid expansion of a system that had historically distributed an average of $ 10 million per year, but is now tasked with distributing ten times as much. . “
Provide relief before 90-day tenant eviction protections expire
The update comes as tenants who applied for rental assistance in July near the end of their 90-day eviction protection. Oregon Senate Bill 278 Provides 60 days of eviction protection for non-payment to tenants who present proof of a completed rental assistance application to their landlords. Multnomah County has extended this shelter provision for an additional 30 days for county residents. The county and a network of community partners have worked to ensure that no-one eviction protections expire due to non-payment of rent.
Peggy Samolisnki, who heads the county’s youth and family services division, said the county is prioritizing households that applied for rent assistance in July, whose protections are about to expire.
âWe know their protections would end, so we prioritized these requests in the Allita system,â Samolinski said, adding that there is a back-up plan in case their rent assistance is delayed. âWe have a plan to contact these owners directly ourselves, and we are working with our partners at the Oregon Law Center to reach out to these owners to reassure them that the review is underway.â
The county has a three-pronged approach to protecting tenants: a community app model comprised of local funds; a centralized online portal sponsored by the State of Oregon known as Allita; and a rapid-reaction eviction protection program.
âWe have really learned a lot over the past year and a half, and we are continually implementing those learnings in these three different systems to make sure that we keep as many people housed and support families as they need,â he said. declared Yesenia. Delgado, Family System Program Specialist for the Joint Homelessness Services Office.
Of the money distributed to tenants so far, $ 5.6 million comes from the Community Demand Model, which distributes funds from the City of Portland, Multnomah County. Since the start of the pandemic, 30 employees have been hired to help distribute rent assistance. And since July 1, the program has served 1,400 households with more than $ 5.6 million in rental assistance committed.
An additional $ 44 million was allocated to the county by Oregon Housing and Community Services, through Allita, the state’s online portal. This funding comes from emergency rent assistance dollars allocated to the state by the federal government. As of Friday, September 17, more than 2,200 households have received rental assistance totaling $ 9.6 million.
Since the start of Allita’s deployment, staff responsible for distributing rental assistance, as well as tenant advocates, have expressed concern about software issues and administrative burdens, both of which have slowed down distribution of rental assistance. funds to tenants. Each request has 22 stages – each requiring staff participation – before aid is dispersed. There are currently over 12,000 claims totaling over $ 76 million in Multnomah County’s queue. This currently exceeds the $ 44 million allocated to the county.
“We are spending a tremendous amount of resources in terms of human resources, emotional resources, financial resources to support a system that does not seem to be in place to serve the people we intended to serve,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal noted. âIt’s hard to imagine a system that is harder to do the job we need. So all of this to say that I sincerely appreciate the work that goes into figuring out how to do this.
Cases of eviction for non-payment are on the rise and legal experts are here to help
The county’s third strategy – the Eviction Protection Program – has two main components: awareness raising for tenants threatened with eviction and legal support. The program is comprised of county-funded employees who conduct court outreach visits for tenants who have an eviction hearing. To date, the program has helped more than 290 households avoid eviction. The legal component provides legal advice and guidance to tenants, and the positive outcomes include winning the trial, maintaining clients’ housing, obtaining additional time to process rent assistance payments, and rejection of cases.
Deportation Protection Services provided by Bienestar de la Familia, Oregon Law Center, Metropolitan public defender and 211info have connected tenants with more than $ 450,000 in rent assistance payments.
But legal experts like Becky Straus, a lawyer with the Oregon Law Center, say they are seeing more cases of preventable evictions. And as more and more people are at risk of their SB 278 Safe Harbor protections expiring, it is expected to get worse. Also quote the MC order – as that gives an extra 30 days.
There were 169 non-payment cases in August, 34% of which resulted in a negative – but preventable – outcome for the tenant, Straus said. In many cases, these tenants simply did not show up to court and lost their case. Some tenants agree to pay their rent in a shorter period than what is offered to them. In some cases, the landlord was successful, resulting in the eviction of his tenants.
âWe have a very detailed and, frankly, unprecedented look at what’s going on in the eviction court. Right now, the picture is not particularly encouraging, âsaid Straus. âWe are concerned about 34% of non-payment cases that lead to some sort of preventable and adverse outcome for the tenant. ”
Weekly referrals to 211 for eviction notices for non-payment are also on the rise. With the increase in the number of callers, 211 added more staff to provide resources to households. Callers who have received an eviction notice are immediately connected to the county program, where staff help people apply for rent assistance.
âWe are very confident that all households that contact 211 and are identified by the court, that we will get their rent assistance paid and that we will be able to prevent this eviction,â Delgado said.
County launches public awareness campaign for tenants
On Tuesday, September 21, the county launched a multi-day SMS campaign targeting more than 308,000 cell phone users in Multnomah County. The alert, written in English and Spanish, informs residents of the financial and legal resources available to them if they have had trouble, or are having trouble paying their rent. The message also encourages residents to call 211 if they have received an eviction notice for non-payment of rent.
The text messaging campaign was just one example of many ways the county is mobilizing residents to prevent evictions and connect them to assistance. Over the past several months, staff have been going door-to-door and meeting with people at the central courthouse on a daily basis to intervene in the eviction process.
Now the county is turning to more traditional public service announcement-style campaigns aimed at educating as many residents as possible about available eviction prevention resources.
“We have to take into account the inherent inequity of a centralized system with direct and intentional reach through multiple channels to reach these communities using whatever means of communication at our disposal,” said Liam Frost, senior policy adviser of the President Kafoury. âIt’s not a bad thing if people get the message twice, three times, four times, five times. That’s kind of the point here – to try to reach as many people as possible.
In October, each residential unit in Multnomah County will also receive a postcard with eviction prevention information in six different languages. The county is also starting a 30-day social media ad campaign, as well as radio and television ads.
The campaign prioritizes black, Indigenous and other tenants of color by investing in culturally specific media including Univision, The Skanner, The Portland Observer, El Latino De Hoy, Slavic Family Media, The Asian Reporter and more.
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson expressed appreciation for all the awareness that is occurring.
“I think that’s what we can all keep doing, it’s just trying to make people realize that the resources are there and that they are not alone and that we are trying to help them”, said she declared.
“I have never seen the county do something as robust as this,” added Commissioner Lori Stegmann.
County continues to pressure state to address unmet need
Going forward, the county will continue to prioritize the applications in the Allita system with the most urgent needs. On a daily basis, staff monitor which households are closest to the end of their 90-day protection. The county is also speeding up Allita’s claims for those who have received an eviction notice for non-payment of rent.
The amount of rental assistance requested exceeding the available funding, Commissioner Sharon Meieran expressed concern over whether the county on its own can meet the needs of tenants.
âWe know we won’t have enough,â Meiean said. âSo how are we going to get enough money to meet the needs? “
To that end, President Kafoury said it is up to the state to ensure that the money is available to tenants as long as it keeps the Allita app open to tenants. The county is also lobbying the federal government for additional rent assistance of $ 180 million.
âIt is unfortunate to see the number of obstacles that other levels of government have placed at a time when we should have even fewer obstacles in obtaining the rent assistance dollars,â President Kafoury said.