An apartment complex in Portland.

An apartment complex in Portland.

Courtesy of Sightline

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Anna Zamarripa is trying to help dozens of people with their applications for rental assistance. She’s the accounts receivable administrator for Capital Property Management in Portland. She’s the person that tenants in 140 different properties call when they realize they can’t pay their rent. She says the rental assistance process is just as obtuse from her perspective as it is for the renters she’s working with. We hear from Zamarripa about how her job has changed during the pandemic.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. A few weeks ago, we heard from a renter about her challenges during the pandemic and her fears of being evicted as she awaits rental assistance. Today we’re joined by someone who is also dealing with the same Byzantine and overburdened system, but from another angle. Anna Zamarripa is the accounts receivable administrator for Capital Property Management in Portland. She is a person that tenants from 140 different properties call when they realize they can’t pay their rent right now. That means she’s trying to help many people with their applications for rental assistance. Zamarripa joins us now to talk about what that’s like. Welcome to Think Out Loud.

Anna Zamarripa: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Dave Miller: How many people are you working with right now who are trying to get rental assistance through the state to get access to this federal money?

Anna Zamarripa: Right now, we have about roughly 75 active applications. I think there are more out there, but I haven’t been able to sort of see those. But we have probably about 75 active people who I’m working with.

Dave Miller: Can you describe the process that these renters and you, together it seems, are going through?

Anna Zamarripa: Well the resident submits their application through the OARAP Website. Once they pass the initial hurdle, the landlord is emailed a link and then I go in and I approve a variety of things. One that yes, this is our resident. Yes, this is how much they owe. This is who should be paid once the funds are approved and I sign the terms of agreement and then we all say a prayer.

Dave Miller: What’s the prayer and what’s the reason for the prayer?

Anna Zamarripa: That the correct funding will go to the correct payee, that it goes somewhere, and I think those prayers even start before I get the link. I’ve heard from a few residents who say, hey, I applied for assistance and months down the road, I haven’t gotten that link. It turns out they used an erroneous email. When that landlord confirmation link went to the erroneous email, it’s not monitored. I never got that link. Now we’re both trying to scramble to figure out how they can send me that because that is, it’s a very automated system. That’s the only way I can go in and get them to the next step. So I’ll hear from a resident saying, hey, they say they sent you a link. Well, I didn’t get it, let’s see where we can find it. Then I do a deep dive into the system of tech support and processors and supervisors trying to hunt down this one person’s application.

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Dave Miller: How is this your job? Because I mean I guess I would imagine that as the accounts receivable person for this big property management company, your overall job is to make sure that people are paying their rent. How much is it your job to help them navigate this assistance system?

Anna Zamarripa: Well it is my job because we are housing providers. That’s what property managers do. We provide housing. And I think during COVID especially, we have provided a lot more. We have provided a shoulder to cry on. We have provided a resource. We have provided help and so it is my job to make sure they get their rent paid. And if this is part of that, then of course I’m willing to go to the mattresses for this resident to keep them safely housed and to keep our buildings full because that benefits everyone.

Dave Miller: How much do you interact with people at the Oregon Housing and Community Services Agency, that’s the state agency that is overseeing the rental assistance program.

Anna Zamarripa: Early on, most of my contact had been with specifically the tech support from Elita and processors from various agencies. And since it’s all through a blind communication system, I wasn’t sure what agency they’re there with specifically. More recently as these problems have become more apparent, I have had direct contact with someone from OHCS to go through and basically correct all of the errors and try to chase some of this down and repair some errors that already happened and prevent some new ones from happening.

Dave Miller: So you’re actually walking state workers through errors that they have made or that your tenants have made?

Anna Zamarripa: We’re not really sure where the error has happened. I recently spoke to a supervisor and it sounds like most of the errors have been because the system is just autofill on steroids. When an applicant, when resident A, both resident A and B live in properties that we manage, Resident A goes in and makes an application. I approve it, I upload a W-9 for the payee. It moves on its merry way into the system. Resident B comes along and decides to apply for rental assistance as well. Perhaps lives in a different building, perhaps lives at the same building. Automatically, all of resident A’s information is being attached to them. That leads to a lot of crossing, like we’ve had the wrong owner get paid for the wrong building. From what I’m understanding is that there hasn’t, I’ve been told that processors are there to review the applications and to make sure everything is in order. And yet I’ve also heard from processors saying that they just get a printout from their screen and they just they’re just they’re just churning along. So I don’t really have a sense because I know I didn’t upload the wrong W-9. I know the resident didn’t, doesn’t have access to that information. So from what I am beginning to understand after a conversation I had today with a supervisor from OHCS is that the Elita system is just an autofill machine on steroids. And I’m surprised we haven’t gotten a payment for a completely different property management company.

Dave Miller: So that’s the conversations you’re having with the state agency. What are your conversations with tenants like? Because I imagine you’re in an interesting position. You’re trying to help these tenants get money so they can pay the company you work for. But I’m wondering if in the end they see you as someone who essentially is saying pay us, you know... or else.

Anna Zamarripa: In general, that hasn’t been my experience. I think sometimes that’s the first phone call that happens, sometimes that’s the first email I get. It’s the panicked email, it’s the angry email and I get that and I’m happy to absorb that anger. But then I can say okay let’s work the problem. Have you applied for rental assistance? When did you apply? Can you please send me that proof, because now you have this thing called a safe harbor. A lot of residents I’m finding don’t know what’s going on with the rental assistance and how to get it and where to get it and a lot of them are scared. But in general my experience has been that we are partners in this because like I said before, it benefits everyone if the resident can pay their rent and stay in that unit, we have a full building for the property owner and we have a safely housed person as a resident. So in general, I feel like it’s really been a team effort. And I think also part of that becomes that all throughout COVID, so many laws of changes, moratoriums and ordinances and what you have to submit to qualify for this and now you don’t have to submit something to qualify for it. Helping our residents navigate these waters has been my job for the past year and a half. I have gotten to know the residents and I’m hoping that the residents do continue to see me as a resource. I can’t promise them that we’ll get this rent paid, but I can promise that I will do everything I can.

Dave Miller: Have you had to initiate any eviction procedures, processes for nonpayment of rent for tenants who have done everything that they could, but they’re just waiting on a state bureaucracy?

Anna Zamarripa: That’s one good thing about the safe harbor is that that gives us that cushion to say, “Okay, you guys, you gotta wait at least those 60 days,” and then it became the 90 days depending upon what county you’re in. We do have a few residents approaching that safe harbor. And that’s why I’m really glad that I have been able to start accessing the system more with these supervisors and processors and say, okay, this chunk of my applicants are approaching their safe harbor date. And so I need you to prioritize these. You need to do something about these right now. Even if it’s, I don’t need the money in my hands. I just need to know that promise to pay, which is how rental assistance always worked before. We had a system, we had a perfectly lovely system for rental assistance and I’m not sure why we threw that out.

Dave Miller: Anna Zamarripa, thanks for helping us understand this today. I appreciate it.

Anna Zamarripa: Thank you.

Dave Miller: Anna Zamarripa is the accounts receivable administrator for Capital Property Management in Portland.

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