Portland and Multnomah County residential renters cannot be evicted until the current COVID-19 emergency is over, after which they will have six months to pay their back rent, County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a Tuesday, March 17, press conference.
The county also will be using vacant public buildings to set up hundreds of new shelter beds to accommodate homeless people while adhering to social distancing guidelines to lower the spread of the coronavirus.
The ban on evictions, which Kafoury announced on social media the night before, is just one of several measures the two local leaders said they're putting into place to protect housed and houseless residents, businesses and workers from the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.
Efforts to reach homeless
Kafoury said teams of outreach workers have been reaching out to the area's homeless population with supplies and information.
"In the past five days, they've reached more than 1,700 people in every part of this county," she said.
"Crisis exposes the character of a community," she added. "And people all across Multnomah County continue to show up to serve their community. During these extraordinary times, we will meet people where they need to be met. We will protect each other. In this county, we will not stop looking out for each other."
Wheeler, for his part, called on the Oregon Legislature to increase rent assistance for all Oregonians.
He said the city has set up a task force to explore all options to help suffering businesses. Meanwhile, many places such as the Portland Building will be closed to the public. City employees who can work from home are now required to do so.
He said the city is exploring a strategy to protect commercial tenants from eviction and also is asking banks and credit unions to help landlords with mortgage issues due to cash flow issues
He said Prosper Portland — formerly the Portland Development Commission — is tapping $150,000 in grants dedicated to Jade District businesses to help them with impacts of the emergency, and is exploring options to help businesses in other areas as well.
"We're already moving with a sense of urgency," he said.
Wheeler was asked about opening Wapato jail, as former Gov. John Kitzhaber suggested over the weekend. The Portland Tribune reported Monday that Wheeler already has been discussing the idea with building owner Jordan Schnitzer. "Everything's on the table in a time of crisis," Wheeler said. "There are many offers that are coming to the city, into the county. We're gratefully accepting all of those offers of assistance."
Both the city and the county have suspended rules allowing in-person participation in public meetings, which will occur remotely.
Multnomah County Health Officer Jennifer Vines said the county is down to a two-week supply of gowns, gloves and masks for health care workers.
She said local officials' ability to test people for the coronavirus, which already is low, could suffer further due to lack of supplies. Testing will be focused on symptomatic people with high risk of spreading: for instance, those living in long-term care, shelter, correctional facilities.
"I understand the fear that people have," she said. "I share it. I would ask that we resist finger pointing and second guessing. It's a very difficult situation. I would hope that we could all channel our energy into practical solutions and helping out at the individual and community level where we can."