More than 55,000 Oregon households have avoided eviction thanks to the state’s rent assistance program, but money is quickly running out.

The $406 million program, funded by the federal and state governments, will be mostly out of money by June 30, representatives from Oregon Housing and Community Services told legislative committees last week. 

“While we were able to get a lot of money out, we know that the need is still great,” said Andrea Bell, the agency’s executive director. “We’re going to have to be relentless in building and creating more access to affordable housing.” 

Since the program launched in May 2021, more than 55,000 households have received a combined more than $363 million to cover unpaid rent and stave off evictions. The average payment was about $6,400. 

It typically costs three to four times more to help a family out of homelessness than it does to help a family stay housed, according to Jill Smith, the agency’s interim director of housing stabilization.

The majority – 85% – of the Oregonians who received assistance made less than half the median income in their area. That means a family of four in the Portland area was making less than $53,250, while a family of four that received aid in rural counties in eastern Oregon likely earned less than $35,900 a year. 

Agency leaders are still seeking additional funding from the federal government, which has been reallocating money from states that didn’t use it. Oregon so far has received an extra $17 million of such unused funds.

Separately, the Legislature allocated $130 million over the past several months for eviction prevention programs. The agency is using that for direct rent assistance, as well as legal services, mediation and case management. 

The agency struggled for months to get rent payments to tenants or their landlords, prompting the Legislature to convene in a special session in December to extend a “safe harbor” period to protect tenants whose applications for help were pending. The Audits Division of the Secretary of State’s Office is investigating the program this year.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

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Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.