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Oregon approves grants to cover missed rent for more than 2,600 businesses

FILE - This April 22, 2017 file photo shows For Rent signs in front of a house in Salem.

Oregon plans to pay the outstanding rent of more than 2,600 businesses and then offer another round of aid to businesses in need next month.

Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, will distribute nearly $50 million on April 12 to cover the missed rent of a combined 2,609 commercial tenants across the state, according to spokesperson Nathan Buehler. That’s pending the receipt and approval of final documentation from those tenants and landlords.

The grants will be paid directly to landlords to bring their tenants current on rent by covering outstanding rent those tenants accumulated from March 1, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021. The state offered grants of up to $100,000 per tenant, but the average grant request was $19,159.

Eighty-four landlords who applied for grants, 54 of whom are in the Portland area, indicated that they had individual tenants who owed more than $100,000 in missed rent, according to Buehler.

The grants are part of the state’s $100 million commercial rent relief program, which lawmakers approved in January. Business Oregon, which is administering the fund, will reopen applications for another $42 million round in mid-April.

Nearly 88% of the applicants that applied for funding through the program earlier this month were approved, pending final confirmation of their documentation.

Applicants in most parts of the state were approved for funding as long as they met the necessary requirements, but Business Oregon only funded 80% of applicants from the Portland area. That’s because the state is working to distribute grants equitably across the state.

Business Oregon held a lottery to determine which eligible applicants to approve. Those that weren’t approved initially will automatically be considered along with new applicants during the second round of funding in April.

While the vast majority of applicants were approved, it is still unclear how many business owners across the state are behind on rent due to the pandemic.

Melanie Marconi, the owner of Vida, a coworking space in Northeast Portland, told lawmakers earlier this month that her landlord had not applied for the funds, even though she had fallen significantly behind on rent. Other business owners have raised similar concerns.

While both landlords and tenants must participate in Oregon’s application process, landlords must submit the initial application. Landlords who accept the funding must also sign an agreement forgiving any outstanding penalties or interest and promising not to evict their tenants.

Despite the commercial rent relief program, business groups and owners also remain concerned about a looming eviction crisis.

Oregon lawmakers allowed the state’s moratorium on commercial evictions to expire last September, but gave business owners until the end of March to repay their outstanding rent. That may have prevented an onslaught of commercial evictions over the last six months.

Lawmakers are currently considering a proposal to give business owners until the end of September to repay rent bills they accumulated during the worst days of the coronavirus recession last year.

However, lawmakers are unlikely to vote on that bill before the current grace period expires at the end of March, potentially opening up businesses owners to evictions if their landlords have not applied or been approved for funding through the commercial rent relief program.