In a March 19 letter addressed to the Lane County Board of County Commissioners and Chair Heather Buch, the nonprofit Springfield-Eugene Tenant Association (SETA) ask for assistance to renters as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the economy.
The letter outlines nine action items that the county commissioners should take to support tenants during an economy hit by social distancing measures. In short, the group asks for a temporary moratorium on residential evictions because of COVID-19-related wage loss, a six-month repayment period, prohibit late fees, suspend eviction filings at county court, an emergency fund for rent assistance and impose fees and fines for those who violate these rules.
“In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic we recognize that many people who were already one paycheck away from not being able to pay their bills will no longer be able to do so due to loss of income,” the letter says. “We urge you, as the elected leadership of Lane County, to take all necessary actions to limit further harm and displacement in our community.”
The moratorium on evictions is inspired by the city of Portland and other cities that imposed such action. The letter references the city of Portland and Multnomah County’s eviction moratorium policy. This includes evictions due to nonpayment because of lost wages from COVID-19. Landlords can’t charge late fees and when the moratorium ends, tenants have six months to repay the late rent.
According to a press release from Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office, the city is working on a plan that would work with banks, lending institutions and state and federal partners for people with mortgages.
SETA proposes that for someone to benefit from the program, they must demonstrate loss of income from COVID-19 and notify their landlord of their inability to pay rent.
Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis said at a March 20 press conference that the city is finding ways to help vulnerable community members like renters and unhoused people.
According to the letter, SETA says the area already has a housing crisis before the pandemic began.
“Left unchecked, we fear the confluence of these situations will lead to much greater destruction in our community than would otherwise occur. Now is a time for decisive action,” the letter says.
The full letter is below.
Urgent Recommendations for Protection of Lane County Renters During the COVID-19 Emergency
Chair Buch and Lane County Commissioners,
The Eugene-Springfield Consolidated Plan identifies a substantial percentage of our population as being housing cost-burdened. The TAC report and our recent PIT count numbers identify a growing population of unsheltered homeless in our community. In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic we recognize that many people who were already one paycheck away from not being able to pay their bills will no longer be able to do so due to loss of income. We urge you, as the elected leadership of Lane County, to take all necessary actions to limit further harm and displacement in our community. The Oregon Supreme Court has postponed court appearances involving evictions and Multnomah County has stayed eviction proceedings for an even longer period of time and established additional protections for tenants unable to pay rent during this emergency. Other cities and states throughout the nation are also taking both judicial and legislative action to reduce the impacts on their citizens most vulnerable to displacement (as of today, based on our limited research, 7 states have passed state-wide legislation, issued executive orders and/or court orders; and 23 cities and counties have passed similar measures). We implore our local governments, including and especially the Board of Lane County Commissioners, to follow suit by implementing to the full extent of your power the actions listed further below.
Alarmingly, we at the Springfield-Eugene Tenant Association are continuing to hear reports of not only evictions, but rent increases at the maximum allowed amount even in spite of the current threat of COVID-19. As recently as yesterday afternoon we heard from two local renters concerned about being forced out of their homes. We understand the need for city and county attorneys to adapt language to our local context and abide by legal powers granted to them; however, we implore creativity in recognizing that our community was already experiencing one of the worst housing crises in the nation before this pandemic began. Left unchecked, we fear the confluence of these situations will lead to much greater destruction in our community than would otherwise occur. Now is a time for decisive action.
In light of these extenuating circumstances, the Springfield-Eugene Tenant Association urges the Lane County Commission to implement the following measures adapted from actions already taken in Multnomah County and elsewhere around the country, as well as items suggested by the National Low Income Housing Coalition:
Impose a temporary moratorium on all residential evictions in Lane County for tenants on the basis of nonpayment of rent due to wage loss resulting from COVID-19.
To establish eligibility for this moratorium, affected tenants must:
i. Demonstrate substantial loss of income, through documentation or other objectively verifiable means, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including County, state, and federal restrictions imposed to mitigate its spread; and
ii. Notify their landlords on or before the day that rent is due that they are unable to pay rent due to substantial loss of income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grant tenants a 6 month repayment period after the expiration of this emergency for tenants to pay back rent accrued during this state of emergency.
Prohibit landlords from imposing late fees for rent that is delayed during this declared emergency.
Work with the Lane County Circuit Court to suspend Circuit Court hearings on eviction proceedings until April 30, 2020, or later.
Work with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office to ensure that writs of execution or actions in furtherance of residential evictions for nonpayment of rent or mortgage payments will not be enforced during the state of emergency upon demonstration that executing a writ will cause a person to be without housing.
Establish an emergency fund that provides low income renters emergency rental assistance to ensure they can remain housed during this crisis to avoid homelessness.
Make funds available to HUD housing providers to ensure they have sufficient funds to cover the additional cleaning and staff costs incurred to keep their residents safe.
Any place of lodging within Lane County must accept and/or retain housing for any individual whose payment is subsidized either by the County or a County contractor. Refusal to accept or retain housing of individuals whose payment is subsidized either by the County or a County contractor during this declaration of emergency will be subject to fines and penalties to the greatest extent possible;
Direct the appropriate staff to draft an ordinance that will impose retroactive fines and penalties for violation of these measures.
We at the Springfield-Eugene Tenant Association are willing partners in these efforts. Please do not hesitate to reach out if there is any way we can be helpful. We sincerely appreciate the critical work you are doing to protect our communities. It is at times of crisis that we see the greatest value in steadfast and determined leadership from our elected bodies and we are fortunate to have you at the helm.