AFFORDABLE HOUSING advocates in Portland were busy last week.
On Tuesday, September 15, the grassroots Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) held a press conference and rally demanding that local leaders dramatically increase protections against no-cause evictions and unreasonable rent increases.
Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman wasted no time responding, announcing the next day that his office plans to propose similar, though far less dramatic, protections.
CAT wants a temporary moratorium on all no-cause evictions, and wants the city to require landlords to offer a year's notice if planning to increase rent by more than five percent. CAT also wants landlords to voluntarily sign a pledge promising to only issue for-cause evictions for the next year.
Saltzman's counter-offer didn't directly address that last piece, but it did propose increasing the notice for both no-cause evictions and rent increases of more than 10 percent. Renters would get three months' warning.
Saltzman says this is the best the city can do in the face of state laws that preempt stronger measures. But his proposal's attracted a two-pronged front of anger—both from landlords, who vow to fight the proposed changes, and tenant advocates, who say Saltzman's plan doesn't go far enough.
Christian Bryant, president of Coldwell Banker Property Management, tells the Mercury that placing additional restrictions on landlords could backfire, causing more harm than good because investors would be less inclined to put their money into the rental market, thereby decreasing an already inadequate supply of units.
"Why not add some financial help to builders and developers of multi-family housing that rewards them for both building rental units and completing the project quickly?" Bryant wrote in an email. "This would have a much more positive long-term effect on the tenants."
Bryant cautions he's not an attorney, but says he questions the legality of extending the notice for rent increases, saying it might violate Oregon's ban on rent control. He says the Portland Area Rental Owners Association and the Northwest Real Estate Investors Association, which he represents, "definitely will try to fight these proposals in any way that we can."
On the other side, tenant advocates like Margot Black, who's active in the fight to increase local protections and working to organize a renters' union, doesn't think Saltzman's proposals do enough to protect tenants.
"I am concerned that your proposal only postpones... the impact of rent increases and evictions, rather than lessen it in any measurable way," Black wrote in an email to members of Portland City Council. "I strongly urge you [to] consider amending your proposal."
Black says Saltzman's current proposals are the equivalent of hitting the "snooze button" and proposes Portland enact much bolder protections, such as forgiving the final month's rent when tenants are evicted without cause, requiring landlords to pay stipends to tenants who have to find new digs on short notice, and better enforcing laws against retaliatory rent increases.
"Extra time does not make it easier to say goodbye to our schools, neighbors, communities, and often, our pets," Black says. "Extra time does not make our wages increase, lower our other living expenses, or make getting a second or third job any more tenable."
Saltzman pointed out on September 16 that his proposals are preliminary, and the language hadn't been drafted yet. He said he plans on finalizing details and putting the proposal to a vote in an October city council session.