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A sign advertises apartments for rent in north Portland.

Landlords in Oregon whose tenants have fallen behind on rent during the coronavirus pandemic can now apply for relief from the state.

Applications for Oregon’s new landlord compensation fund opened Wednesday, nearly two months after state lawmakers allocated $150 million to seed the program.

Landlords can apply for relief to cover 80% of the rent they are owed by tenants dating back to April 2020. However, they will be required to forgive 20% of unpaid rent.

Nicole Stingh, a spokesman for Oregon Housing and Community Services, which is administering the fund, said her agency will make $50 million available during the first round of funding. The agency expects to offer at least three rounds of funding before the end of June.

With limited money available, the state has opted to prioritize landlords owed the greatest percentage of rent and those with fewer properties.

Tenants must sign a declaration of financial hardship for landlords to submit with their applications, a requirement that some landlords raised concerns about during conversations with Oregon Housing and Community Services in January. Those landlords worried about losing out on the opportunity to receive relief if their tenants didn’t sign the declaration.

Oregon lawmakers created the new compensation fund in December as part of legislation that extended the state’s eviction moratorium through June for renters who declare they are experiencing financial hardship.

Along with allocating $150 million to the new fund, lawmakers provided an additional $50 million to existing rent relief programs. Tenants can find out how to apply for that relief through local community action agencies or by calling 211. That assistance will also be paid directly to landlords to cover past due rent.

Oregon Housing and Community Services is also receiving roughly $200 million more in rental assistance from the federal government, Stingh said last month. She said the agency was waiting on additional guidance before allocating those funds.

Earlier this month, Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, introduced a bill that would offer tax credits over a five-year period to landlords who forgive past-due rent. Landlords would be allowed to sell credits to other Oregon taxpayers.

Multifamily NW, a rental industry group whose members include mostly large landlords and property managers, expressed support for the bill when Johnson first floated the idea ahead of the December special session. But lawmakers ultimately only took up legislation in December to extend the eviction moratorium and create the landlord compensation fund.

During public testimony in December, some landlords raised concerns about key elements of the new fund.

Violet Wilson, a property owner and landlord in Keizer, said at the time that she had seven tenants who owed a combined $30,000 in back rent and expected their debt to double in the next six months. She criticized the requirement that landlords forgive 20% of rent owed to access the assistance and expressed worry that the assistance wouldn’t reach landlords quickly enough.

“I understand this is being done to stretch dollars, but we can’t do the same,” Wilson said.

Her worry about not being able to quickly access assistance appears to have been justified.

Landlords approved for funding through the new compensation fund are unlikely to see any money until at least mid-March.

Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

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