Merkley Presses for Fix to Rural Development Rental Assistance Shortfall that Could Kick Low-Income Oregonians Out of their Homes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, the Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, brought a key Oregon witness, Tony Chrisman, to testify before the panel on an impending rural housing disaster. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development agency – due to a budget miscalculation – has stopped paying its share of low-income tenants’ rent at thousands of rural multi-family housing projects across America. This is placing the tenants at risk of eviction and homelessness.

Merkley is pressing for a solution to the problem immediately, before low-income Oregonians and other Americans in rural communities face potentially being kicked out of their homes.

At the hearing, Merkley questioned the USDA about bipartisan legislative language that was developed with USDA Rural Development’s input to allow the USDA to provide back payments to companies like Chrisman Development, and was included in the recently enacted legislation to keep the government funded into December. At today’s hearing, USDA officials testified that they had not yet acted to provide back payments and told the panel for the first time that they now were not sure the the language in fact allow them to provide such payments.

To testify firsthand to the impacts of these shortfalls in rural communities, Merkley brought Tony Chrisman, the Vice President of Enterprise-based Chrisman Development, to DC to talk about what he is seeing on the ground. Chrisman has 25 years’ experience as a developer and property manager in Eastern Oregon. He described the current situation as “alarming” and testified that their company had received almost no notification about the impending changes and the funding shortfall. Now, USDA has fallen behind in rental assistance payments to their company, and low-income residents potentially face dramatic rent increases that would almost certainly force residents out of their homes. 

Chrisman testified to his company’s lost revenue, the ripple effects on the local economy, and his concern that extremely vulnerable low-income residents could soon be forced out of their homes and potentially face homelessness.

Businesses and residents in communities across the country are facing similar challenges.

“USDA’s mismanagement of this program has forced businesses to face closing their doors and threatens low-income Americans with being kicked out of their homes and onto the streets,” said Merkley. “It is inexplicable and wholly unacceptable. I will continue doing everything in my power to fix this mess and to ensure that we have adequate funding to meet the need for rural rental assistance going forward.”

Video of the hearing is available here.