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PSU: 90,000 Oregon COVID evictions loom

A new report from Portland State University shows that an avalanche of looming evictions across Oregon could come with an eye-popping cost to society of $3.3 billion.

The report, from researchers with PSU’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, says that number “is likely an underestimate.”

“We’re talking about a scale of disruption that we’ve never seen before,” said associate professor Lisa K. Bates, the study’s co-author. “We haven’t turned the corner on the virus, let alone gotten into a place of economic recovery.”

Bates’ analysis of U.S. Census pulse data suggests some 89,000 families statewide owe back rent. An earlier PSU survey of 460 Oregonians extrapolated that more than a third of Oregon renters — and more than half of renters of color — have missed rent payments.

That money is coming due fast. While state lawmakers approved a new moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent in December, the partial ban ends June 30. Repayment is legally required by July 1.

Plugging that hole in landlords’ wallets could cost as much as $378 million, per a September report by financial advisory firm Stout. But if government stimulus money can’t cover the gap, the strain to the social safety net will be far greater, the report concludes.

“With a combination of state and federal funds, this is of a size that one could wrap their arms around,” said Bates. “The alternative is really stark.”

The six-page report relies on a cost calculator developed by the University of Arizona College of Law. Shelter expenses alone could cost as much as $1.98 billion, assuming 62% of those to be evicted stay in shelters an average of 130 days.

The high-end projected costs also include $613 million for in-patient medical care, $239 million for E.R. care, $318 million for foster care and $191 million for child delinquency services.

Using the most optimistic estimates, the total cost drops from $3.3 billion to a mere $1 billion, though the report cautions that many externalities are excluded from the final price tag.

“The estimate does not include costs due to lost income, increase in public assistance, gaps in education, or the long-term impact to health, education and earnings,” according to the report. “Neither does it capture the costs of building new shelters and creating new emergency support as a result of exceeding current system capacity” or costs associated with increased spread of the novel coronavirus.

Bates’ recommendations to policymakers include creating mediation, repayment planning and tenant education programs, boosting funding for affordable housing and rental assistance programs, as well as providing public legal advisers for defendants in eviction courts.

The professor, who holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning, notes that the vast majority of those facing the boot lost employment through no fault of their own.

“We have a dire situation caused by a public health emergency that is caused by all types of policy failures,” she said.