sorbetto / getty images

YOU MIGHT have heard: Moneyed institutional investors have come to suckle at the teat of Portland’s rental market, and chaos—in the form of mass evictions and drastic rent increases—has ensued.

But those investors might soon have new competition, teat-wise: the very tenants whose rents they’re looking to raise.

For months, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s office has been quietly working up a policy that’s likely to cause intense debate over how the city wrangles its housing crisis.

Under a proposal the commissioner hopes to introduce in coming months, the city would require owners selling their rental properties to give tenants and the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) 90 days’ notice and the first chance to buy at market rate. Only if both pass up the deal would those institutional investors (and anyone else) be able to grab the property.

“The tenants get the first 60 days to determine whether they want to make this a home-ownership opportunity,” says Jamey Duhamel, Eudaly’s policy director. “The last 30 days go to the city.”

It’s the latest shit-stirring proposal from the office that brought Portland landlords mandatory renter relocation payments. Eudaly’s folks have earned a reputation in City Hall as pugilists, happy to slug it out for their ideas.

But the “right of first refusal” proposal being hammered out behind closed doors isn’t unique. It would be similar to policies in Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, and elsewhere.

The goals, as laid out by Duhamel, are twofold. By giving tenants (living in either single-family homes or apartment buildings) the prerogative to purchase property, the city might increase homeownership. Duhamel concedes that such arrangements are unlikely until local housing nonprofits figure out how to work with tenant groups on financing.

More likely, she contends, is that the policy would give the city a jump on spending the $258.4 million affordable housing bond approved by voters last year.

The bond promised to create or preserve 1,300 affordable units in the city, and purchases are slated to begin in October. Eudaly’s people believe that giving the PHB an opportunity to buy up apartment buildings at market rate—without having to chase them on the open market—will help officials meet their goals.

“Without that kind of mechanism, they’re really just racing against the clock,” Duhamel says.

This isn’t going to go down easy. In the fight to force landlords to pay relocation fees, Eudaly and her staff had built council support before a fraught February hearing. There appears to be no such support base for this latest plan.

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office says it hasn’t been fully briefed. PHB Director Kurt Creager, who can speak at length about similar policies elsewhere, tells me he’s got no position “other than pointing out the need to manage expectations and the need to move quickly.” Others in City Hall express doubts about the idea.

Eudaly’s people get that. And they don’t care.

“There’s going to be a tremendous amount of skepticism,” Duhamel tells me. “How it plays out politically is secondary to our concerns.”