Digest: Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program applications reopen today at 10:00 a.m.

The Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program portal will resume accepting applications for rent relief. The program will likely only be available for a limited time, due to availability of funds. Oregon Housing and Community Services, the agency responsible for the program, expects to keep applications open for three to five weeks and expects funding to cover between 6,700 and 9,300 applications. Applications will be considered on need, rather than on timing of submission — but with limited funds, it’s still important to get an application in as soon as possible if you need assistance.

Those seeking rental assistance will be protected from eviction by the state’s “safe harbor” law from the time an application is submitted to when that application is processed, at least until September 30, 2022. Additional rental assistance may be available through city or county programs — calling 211 is the best way to find those resources. Because many landlords are continuing evictions on grounds that work around safe harbor protections, renters should also consider connecting with Don’t Evict PDX and other legal supports after submitting an application.

As of January 19, OHCS had paid $243.6 million in emergency rental assistance across 34,900 applications, though its work has not been smooth. Similarly, local voucher programs have struggled with rollout. But the problems with providing housing support during a pandemic are only a symptom of the larger housing crisis. Between decades-long disinvestment in public housing and a housing system that encourages landlord to evict tenants in order to raise rental rates, we need major changes in order to address Portland’s long-running housing crisis.

Sex worker decriminalization ballot initiative withdrawn

The Sex Worker Rights campaign withdrew its planned ballot initiative earlier this week. Initiative Petition 42 would have decriminalized sex work in the state of Oregon. This is the second effort in as many years to not make it through the political process — State Representative Rob Nosse’s decriminalization bill died in committee in June 2021. A poll conducted while the state legislature considered that bill showed that 54% of likely voters in Oregon supported the measure. When looking at just voters registered as Democrats, the percentage jumps to 70% and 59% of independent voters favored sex work decriminalization.

In the event that Nicholas Kristof is able to convince the Oregon Supreme Court of his eligibility to run for governor, expect to hear a lot more about sex workers’ rights. Sex workers have already expressed concerns about Kristof’s coverage of sex workers while a columnist at The New York Times. Kristof seems to be unable to tell the difference between consensual sex work and human trafficking. He’s also a supporter of the Nordic model, in which sex work itself is decriminalized, but the purchase of sex is still a criminal act — a model which sex workers report decreases their safety.

It’s unclear what form future efforts to decriminalize sex work in Oregon will take, but it’s an issue we need to make progress on. Focusing on prosecuting consensual arrangements makes prosecuting human traffickers nearly impossible: First, fear of prosecution for sex work means trafficking victims are reluctant to ask for help. Second, the focus on sex trafficking means that we regularly ignore the other 80% of human trafficking — forced labor in agriculture, service, and other labor sectors is far more common. Oregon law enforcement agencies spend an average $21 million per year to police sex workers, with minimal changes to demand and availability. Several Oregon laws even define human trafficking as sex trafficking, making prosecution of forced labor trafficking almost impossible. At the same time, reports of forced labor in Oregon are on the rise, especially at illegal cannabis farms (due in part to cannabis’ legalization rather than decriminalization).

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.