Ben Botkin

(Oregon Capital Chronicle) Oregon’s housing agency will pause accepting new applications for its homeowner assistance program.

The pause, which starts at 11 a.m. Wednesday, will allow the Housing and Community Services agency to process current applications, complete system maintenance and tally the federal funds available for homeowners.

The program helps Oregonians who’ve fallen behind on mortgage payments during the pandemic. So far, the agency has helped 292 homeowners through the $90 million program, which launched in January and is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

“The program has served the most at-risk homeowners, keeping families in their homes,” said Ryan Vanden Brink, assistant director of Homeowner Assistance Programs, in a statement. “If you are a homeowner falling behind, don’t delay, reach out to a state approved homeownership center right away.”

The average award was $24,283 as of this week, the agency said.

Applications take 90 to 120 days for a decision and additional time to coordinate payments. The program started in November 2021 as a limited pilot program for homeowners facing imminent loss of their property and has expanded throughout this year to more homeowners.

The agency anticipates that the state will start accepting new applications in early 2023, said Delia Hernández, a spokesperson for the agency.

In an email, Hernández said the pause will allow the state to process applications and estimate how much money is left in the program to avoid overcommitting as it calculates the payouts. She said the agency wants to ensure it has the money to help homeowners before approving their applications.

The state agency still encourages eligible people to apply for the program. During the pause, homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments or at risk of missing a payment can get advice from free certified housing counselors about budgeting and other options. To look up a housing counselor by region, go here. Homeowners should also contact their lenders, state officials said.

The pause does not affect applications that are in the system. Those will be processed, and people who have started applications can complete them.

During the pause, there will be one exception: Housing counselors who act on behalf of homeowners facing a judicial action or foreclosure can submit new applications. Those applications will require documentation about a pending foreclosure sale date.

Separately, the state ran an emergency rental assistance program during the pandemic that ended in August and has paid nearly $426 million rental and utility assistance as of Sept. 1, state data shows. The agency also paused that program for a time.

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office in February announced plans to audit the program, following criticism following the pause. The agency had technical issues related to rental assistance software and public communication “challenges,” the audit plan says.

The audit is in progress and is expected to be completed in the second quarter of next year, said Ben Morris, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

When that program ended, the agency started the Oregon Eviction Diversion and Prevention Program to help Oregonians facing evictions by distributing rental funds and providing eviction and housing-related resources such as case management, mediation and legal services.