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Sept. 16, 2021

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Oregon will use $28 million left over from commercial rent relief program for small-business grants

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Oregon will distribute approximately $28 million in grants to small businesses that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The money is left over from a state commercial rent relief program.

Applications for the new grant program will open Wednesday and will remain open until June 6.

Grants will go to businesses that have fewer than 100 employees, have experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic and are in industries that the state believes have been most impacted by the pandemic. Among businesses that will be eligible are restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters, bowling centers and salons.

Business Oregon, the state economic development agency that is administering the program, is funding the Operational Cost Assistance Grant program with money left over from its commercial rent relief program.

State lawmakers allocated $100 million in January to launch the commercial rent relief program to help businesses that had fallen behind on their rent due to the pandemic. Businesses were asked to apply with their landlords for grants to cover their past-due rent.

However, fewer applicants applied for rent relief through the program than expected.

Nathan Buehler, a spokesperson for Business Oregon, said the agency approved nearly $59 million to help pay the missed rent of 2,881 businesses statewide during the first two rounds of the commercial rent relief program.

So far, the state has processed 2,471 grants totaling more than $51 million, but has been unable to distribute grants to the remaining 410 businesses that have been approved for funding because those businesses and their landlords have yet to approve the terms of the grants. Applicants that haven’t heard from Business Oregon can contact the agency via email or phone at 833-604-0880.

It isn’t clear whether the rent relief program had leftover money because of a lack of need, though.

Several businesses told lawmakers in March that their landlords had declined to apply for relief through the program. While both landlords and tenants were asked to participate in the application process, landlords were required to submit the initial application and the grants were paid directly to them. The state required landlords who accepted the grants to forgive any outstanding penalties or interest and ensure that their tenants wouldn’t be evicted.

Buehler said the state has also heard from other businesses who decided to prioritize paying their rent over other operational expenses in order to avoid eviction. While those businesses have continued to struggle amid the pandemic, they weren’t eligible for relief through the rent relief program.

“We changed things up with the remaining funds to get the money in the hands of businesses that were particularly impacted by the pandemic, regardless of their rent situation,” Buehler said in an email.

Businesses that receive grants through the new program will be able to put that money toward operational expenses as well as unpaid rent. Eligible businesses will be chosen for the grants through a random lottery after the application period closes.

Businesses that received rent relief through the commercial rent relief program are still eligible to apply for the new grants, but applicants can’t receive more than $100,000 from the two programs combined.

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