In listening to the inauguration of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris yesterday I am thankful for the hope this ceremonial and historic pause brings. However, as our president and vice president transition quickly to the work of their offices, it is clear the needs of our communities, and our nation, do not pause. Specifically, the needs of those impacted by Covid-19, loss of work, and our recent fires in the Rogue Valley. In my excitement for the transitions on the national level I also reflect that our residents are most often impacted by policies on the state and local level.
In reading and studying the economic impacts facing our residents, I am especially struck by the compounding of back rent, and utility bills. A resident shared an article with me that cited a Moody’s Analytics statistic confirming my concern. At this time almost 12 million households across our nation have outstanding, combined rent and utility bills averaging $5,8501. Penciling the math that is $70 billion dollars. This coin has two sides, those who live under the weight of amassing debt, and those small landlords who also face hardship due to uncollected rents. They too contend with how to pay their bills. I feel the work of our state and municipal governments includes keeping families and individuals stably housed, and working to ensure that the challenges of these times are anticipated and answered.
To this point, I am encouraged by the work of our state legislature in anticipating the needs of renters and landlords. The Oregon Legislature has two programs coming forward under HB 4401 to help address the growing debt burden. These programs set aside funds for renters and landlords in the amounts of $50 million in rent assistance, and $150 million for landlord relief2. The funds are not stood up as of today but are forthcoming.
It is important to highlight the moratorium on eviction continues through June 30, 2021. However, unlike in previous months, renters must complete a form declaring economic hardship and submit to the property’s landlord. Access to the form, and information on the use of this form, can be found at www.oregonlawcenter.org.
For landlords the process to apply will include3:
- An online application through the Oregon Housing and Community Service Department (OHCS), including the tenant attestation of financial hardship referenced above.
- OHCS will review the application with specific attention given to the number of units owned and the percentage of unpaid rents.
- The process then moves to the Public Housing Authority to verify key information, make funding awards (if applicable) and notify tenants of rent forgiveness.
To find information on the process, and sign up for e-mail notification when the funding is stood up, go to https://www.oregon.gov/ohcs/housing-assistance/Pages/landlord-compensation-fund.aspx.
Tenants may find additional resources pertaining to public benefits at www.211.org.
Now, rent represents only half of the equation and utilities must also be considered. This is where our local government in Ashland can help. Ashland offers multiple programs to assist residents. Among these, the Ashland Low Income Energy Assistance Program (ALIEAP), Senior Utility Discount, and Emergency Heat Assistance4. Please note the deadline to apply for ALIEAP is February 1, 20215. Information on these programs can be found at https://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=12383.
I encourage those in our community seeking an opportunity to help, to research the Round-Up program. The Round-Up program provides an opportunity for utility customers to help neighbors by rounding their utility bill up to the nearest dollar. If you would like more information, or to opt in, please email our utility billing department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Solving the challenges will require a variety of resources across many platforms. I feel we must keep spreading the word and sharing information to ensure our communities and neighbors know what opportunities are available. Thank you to our state level representation for your efforts on behalf of Southern Oregon and a special thank you to Representative Marsh who helped sponsor HB 4401.