Multnomah County landlords temporarily won’t be able to evict tenants who can’t pay rent due to coronavirus.
County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Tuesday that they have signed emergency orders that ban eviction of tenants who fall behind on rent due to coronavirus-related challenges.
They also announced the county will open hundreds of new shelter bedsin public buildings and other spaces for people experiencing homelessness and Portland’s economic development agency will provide $150,000 in grant to aid businesses in Portland’s Jade District along 82nd Avenue. They said city and county government meetings will be held virtually for the time being.
Under the temporary eviction moratoriums, tenants will have up to six months after March 26, when city and county state of emergencies end, to repay any rent they owe, officials said. The moratoriums apply to people whose jobs are shut down, whose work hours are reduced, who miss work to provide child care due to school closures or who are unable to work because they or a relative are sick from the virus.
Tenants will have to provide letters of proof from their employer, school, doctor or other source to verify their hardship. Landlords who don’t comply with the order could be sued and liable for civil damages as well as other sanctions.
“Yes, everyone should pay their rent on time," Kafoury said. "But for people who are losing their wages due to COVID-19 and find themselves unable to pay rent, we want you to be able to stay in your home.”
Kafoury said discussions are underway with the state courts and county sheriff’s office “to make changes that will keep people housed during this emergency.” She did not elaborate on what those changes would be.
On Monday, Multnomah County Circuit Court suspended all eviction hearings and trials that were scheduled through March 27 and indicated they will be rescheduled for after March 30.
Kafoury said the county will continue to offer motel vouchers for some people who are in shelters and hotels and motels will be banned from refusing occupancy to any of them. She also said some of the newly opened beds will provide space for people who show symptoms of coronavirus and allow them to recuperate.
Wheeler said the grant money for small businesses is being made available first to Portland’s Jade District because the shopping and dining district, centered on Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division Street, is home to many Asian business owners, some of whom seen their revenue drop by as much as 60% amid the coronavirus crisis. There are plans to expand the aid to other businesses throughout the city in the future, Wheeler.
Affected business owners should call 311 for more information, he said.
Wheeler said a city task force was created Monday dedicated to coming up with ideas to help ailing small and large Portland employers and employees. A commercial eviction prevention strategy and other financial relief are also in the works and city officials plan to meet with bank authorities to see if aid can be provided for Portland landlords, Wheeler said. He called on Oregon legislators to increase rental assistance programs statewide.
The mayor said he was proud to hear stories from all over the city of people providing meals and other help to one another during the outbreak.
“We’re in this together. You’re not alone,” Wheeler said. “We will get through this and we’ll get through it together.”
On Monday, Home Forward, the Multnomah County housing authority, announced the same moratorium on evictions for its own buildings.
The moratorium doesn’t go far enough, said Margot Black, co-chair of Portland Tenants United and candidate for City Council. She wants total rent forgiveness -- meaning that renters wouldn’t have to pay back the rent they miss during the state of emergency.
“When this recession or depression hits, we’re not going to be able to pay rent for a long time,” Black said. “It’s not like when things get back to normal, whatever that normal looks like, we can carry a six month rent debt with us and figure out a payment plan.”
Protesters interrupted Tuesday press conference to demand that same, including one person who threatened to cough on Wheeler.
Wheeler acknowledged that forgoing rent payments for six months could hurt some landlords. He said the city of Portland will be calling on banks and credit unions to extend loan repayment timelines in some circumstances.