It’s been a tenuous time to be a tenant – or a landlord. The issue of rent payments, and the strain of being able to make them, has hit both groups. When the Oregon Legislature decided in fall 2020 not to extend the temporary moratorium on commercial evictions, a multitude of commercial tenants hit hard by Covid fallout were justifiably concerned about deferred rent repayments that would come due in March 2021. In response, in January 2021 the Oregon Legislative Emergency Board allocated $100 million to a commercial rent relief program, which would be administered by Business Oregon.
On March 2 the announcement came that this program would open up for applications on March 8. Within minutes of the press release, NAI Elliott started to hear from landlords and tenants, asking how they could participate.
Assessing our role
Our Executive Officers Committee quickly gathered to discuss how to take advantage of this program—while also keeping it from being an added burden on our management teams, whose day-to-day responsibilities at their properties had already increased in response to the pandemic. Our initial task was to clarify our position in the program, and how we could best facilitate the process for our landlord and tenant clients.
This program was unique in that funds would be awarded on a lottery basis statewide, as opposed to similar merit-based or first-come, first-served programs in the past. We immediately realized we had the chance to act as a key program liaison, because we hold the financial records and systems to quickly evaluate client participation and grant applications. We also execute primary tenant communications, and process rent payments. We recognized right away that it would be crucial to establish a centralized process, to avoid frustration and unnecessary duplication of efforts.
Connecting clients to the program
Once we were fully versed in the program details, timeline, process and qualifications, we jumped into action. Step one was to reach out to all our landlord clients, who collectively own more than 120 Oregon properties, to ask them to fill out a short survey. The questions were simple: Do you agree to participate in this program? Do you approve of NAI Elliott doing the work on your behalf? Do you agree to pay us a fee based on the grants awarded? Once we had the landlords’ answers, we would be able to communicate to tenants whether their landlord agreed to the terms of the grant: waiving base rent in excess of the grant amount during the grant period and eviction moratorium through August of 2021.
The biggest step in preparing for the program launch was to gather as much info from tenants as we could. We set up an online tenant survey to match the program questions, and began tracking responses. We received 165 responses from tenants willing to participate in the program. Based on those that qualified for the program, we submitted 136 grant requests for rounds 1 and 2, totaling more than $4.6 million—each request reflecting a tenant’s struggle to satisfy its rent obligations to a landlord.
Navigating the bureaucracy
Next came the lottery selection, and working with tenants and landlords to navigate document submissions, revise grant amounts, update W9s, etc. One of the biggest hurdles was that the system was not initially set up for third-party managers to oversee the process; grant checks would end up being sent all over the place, making it very difficult to track receipt and coordinate with clients. Even with the complexity involved for NAI Elliott (by the time we were done we had coordinated grants for 22 landlords, 48 properties and 127 tenants), we were able to problem-solve by creating and coordinating a centralized address so all the checks could be funneled to one location.
After roughly 1,500 emails, our clients were awarded 56 grants in Round 1, totaling $1.23 million. The grant amounts ranged from $500 to $100,000, representing rents that tenants were unable to pay—which in many cases had been deferred or abated by landlords from March 2020 through February 2021. Once Business Oregon identified that we were managing that many awards, they immediately assigned us a single point of contact for all questions, which was a huge time-saver and allowed us to quickly and efficiently get answers that applied across numerous grant recipients.
We took a quick deep breath after Round 1 closed, and then went back through our own processes to identify tenants that would qualify for Round 2; we reached out to them directly to encourage participation. To the credit of the folks at Business Oregon, when Round 2 opened April 22, it incorporated many lessons learned in the initial process, and they updated their forms to acknowledge third-party managers as an approved point of contact.
We submitted 81 applications in Round 2. This included applications from Round 1 that were not selected in the first lottery; those applications were automatically entered into Round 2. Our clients were awarded 71 grants totaling $1.22 million in Round 2. This added significantly to the number of our clients we were able to help tap into this emergency funding.
Across both rounds, our clients obtained an average of $19,500 per grant. These funds lifted a great burden off both tenants and landlords, helping both groups put aside some of the pain incurred in 2020 so they could focus on moving forward with shared resources and a spirit of cooperation to get through this.
A team effort to help our clients
It took a focused effort from NAI Elliott leadership and our management teams to optimize this opportunity for our clients. Without our executive committee recognizing the value in the effort, our property managers reaching out to tenants and landlords, and our accounting staff reviewing and updating tenant ledgers, these results would not have been possible. And our unique qualifications—being able to step in and both manage and streamline the process, benefiting both tenants and landlords—was a major factor in this success.
While NAI Elliott clients received just over 2% of the total awarded grants, the impact on our clients was immense and went beyond numbers. To our tenants, every grant dollar removed a tiny portion of stress from their shoulders—and freed them to focus on their current efforts without the burden of 2020 rents still weighing them down. To our landlords, these funds are a silver-lining reward for helping their struggling tenants and keeping their property functioning.