Oregon lawmakers look at tax credits for housing solutions ahead of special session

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As back rent mounts in Oregon, so are proposals to pay for it in the state legislature where lawmakers are racing to pass solutions ahead of a potential eviction wave.

Oregon Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, is pursuing her own alternative to extending the state eviction moratorium in contrast to her fellow Democrats.

A bill of hers would instead offer landlords a range of income tax credits if they forgive rent due between April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020 right when the eviction moratorium ends.

Her bill would not be taken up until January 19 when lawmakers convene for their regularly scheduled 2021 session.

Tenant advocates worry that the state could see a tsunami of evictions by New Year’s should the eviction moratorium be allowed to expire.

Johnson’s bill stands in contrast to a proposal Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, has had on the table since November.

Fahey is backing a program creating a landlord bailout fund totaling $150 million which would pay 80% of all rent owed to landlords who forgive 20% of tenants’ overdue payments.

The program is voluntary and lets landlords pursue payment by their own methods. It also extends the current eviction moratorium to June 30, 2021.

Reimbursements would apply to rent owed between April 1, 2020 and the date of the application.

Noticeable changes to Fahey’s bill are the inclusion of manufactured housing co-ops and changes to notices of non-payment.

Landlords may issue notices of non-payment to tenants during the moratorium and tenants would have 10 days to respond rather than 15.

Notices of eviction for non-payment will carry a 10-day response period after the eviction moratorium ends.

Security deposits are also fair game for landlords to apply to back rent on July 1, 2021.

Fahey’s current proposal also requires tenants to submit written declarations avowing they were financially or physical harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consultants said on Thursday said that such declarations will carry penalty of perjury and landlords may not challenge them unless pursued in criminal court.

“We wanted to make sure there were arrangements in place for landlords and tenants that ensures the process works fairly and smoothly,” said Sybil Hebb of the Oregon Law Center. “We didn’t want to gum the protection up with a lot of multiple arguments.”

More housing bills in the works will see uphill battles to get floor attention before the end of the year.

Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, has been working for months on a bill extending the state’s existing moratorium for residential mortgages.

“I am deeply concerned about the thousands of Oregonians facing the potential foreclosure process beginning at the end of the month with this not being included in the package of bills taken up during a special session,” Holvey said. “The risk of pushing people into homelessness in the middle of a global pandemic is immensely distressing.”

Oregon lawmakers will reconvene for a one-day legislative session in Salem on Monday, December 21.

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