Oregon’s Emergency Rent Assistance fund distribution during pandemic criticized by audit 

By on Friday, January 5th, 2024 in More Top Stories Northeastern Oregon News

SALEM — A report released this week by the state’s audits division says Oregon’s housing agency has been unable to verify where millions of dollars in rental assistance went.

The audit raises concerns about the Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) agency’s handling of the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ERA, designed to provide federal funding to keep Oregonians in their homes, distributed $426 million before concluding in June 2023. However, auditors discovered that OHCS struggled to verify the proper distribution of these funds, citing limited oversight and rushed procedures that skipped critical financial accounting controls.

One major risk identified in the audit was the potential for fraud within the Oregon ERA. Approximately $37 million in requests, stemming from over 1,800 potentially fraudulent applications, were denied by multiple agencies. While acknowledging the agency’s urgency during a global crisis, auditors emphasized the need for improved controls to ensure funds reach those in genuine need.

Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade commended OHCS’s prompt response but urged the agency to swiftly implement the audit’s recommendations, emphasizing the importance of proper accountability for public funds. Recommendations include greater internal controls for reporting payment recipients and enhanced measures for detecting and preventing fraud.

Although the ERA program concluded in June, the audit encourages OHCS to apply these lessons to future initiatives, especially as the agency has recently been tasked with administering millions of dollars to address homelessness in the state. The audit report aims to guide improvements in ongoing assistance efforts like the Oregon Eviction Diversion Program, ensuring the state is better prepared for potential future emergencies.