Opinion: Relocation Assistance in Portland

By Dom Belcastro|November 26, 2017Opinions|

We live in a city with a growing number of renters. Tenants across the nation are facing staggering  rent increases, and as we know, the Pacific Northwest is being hit particularly hard by this trend.

Portland renters will soon know if they can permanently rely on the unique protections provided by an emergency relocation assistance ordinance that city council voted into law last February. In the coming months, city council will hold a hearing and take vote on what a permanent version of the law will look like. While the hearing is set for December 14th, it is designated a ‘time certain’ agenda item and is subject to being rescheduled at a later date.

This vote is crucial. The housing crisis in Portland may seem like a new and unprecedented struggle for many students of PCC. It should not be so surprising. Redlining, discriminatory renewal projects and displacement by a highway has affected black communities in the historical Albina district over the decades. This injustice preceded the housing catastrophe that now affects all renters.

A 2015 study found Portland to be at the top of the list of cities with ‘share[s] of eligible tracts gentrifying.’ In non-wonk terms, that means chunks of lifelong residents of over half of neighborhoods of Portland have been displaced by rising rents, property taxes, and previously mentioned urban renewal projects.

Many city governments in our country have decided that rent control is the answer to skyrocketing rents (or was the answer years ago.) Oregon state law prohibits local rent control unless “a natural or man-made disaster … eliminates a significant portion of the rental housing supply.” In order to declare such a state of emergency, the mayor must gain approval from the board of Multnomah County and the state Governor. This designation is separate from the current housing emergency, technically a health and safety emergency, that was declared in 2015. and extended twice!

The Oregon legislature attempted to repeal the statewide ban on local rent control, but ultimately failed to make it out of the senate this past summer. House members voted to support a bill that would strengthen tenants rights throughout the state by allowing cities to enact rent control and require landlords pay relocation assistance (one month’s rent) to tenants they no-cause evict. Once the bill, HB 2004, reached the senate, Democratic legislator Rod Monroe (and to a lesser extent, Betsy Johnson) watered down the bill before voting to deny new protections to renters across the state.

So where does that leave us?

Portland Code Chapter 30.01.085, referred to as the Portland Relocation Assistance ordinance,  mandates landlords pay a sum of money between two thousand nine hundred to four thousand five hundred dollars when no-cause evicting a tenant (or raising rent by ten percent or more in the span of a year). City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s office crafted the Portland ordinance, which required the unanimous support of City Council and Mayor Ted Wheeler to pass.

The current version of the forced relocation ordinance contains an exemption for landlords who own a single rental unit within Portland city limits. This means that these renters do not enjoy the protections of the ordinance. Leadership from local renter’s rights organizations, including Community Alliance of Tenants and Portland Tenants United, have expressed strong desires to close the exemption.

The ordinance is set to expire on April 6, 2018 unless city council votes to extend it again, or approve a permanent ordinance that does not depend on the housing emergency. City council will host an open testimony during the hearing for the public to make their experiences and thoughts on the housing crisis known.

We must not allow Portland city council to let the ordinance expire or leave any renters unprotected, as the coming cold season is expected to mirror last year’s deadly winter. When renters are forced out of their homes, it is inevitable that some may not be able to find a new place to live. It is imperative for the tenants of of the city of Portland to raise up their voices in support of a permanent and strong Relo during the testimony. Our city legislators serve their most vulnerable constituents best when they have faces to connect to the impact of their votes.

Let’s show the council the power of renters everywhere!

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