Portland City Council yesterday passed an ordinance that officially enacted a housing emergency in Portland. The commissioners also got an earful from dozens of speakers, some who waited hours for their chance to tell the council just how much trying to find affordable housing—or even keeping the housing you have—seriously sucks in this city.
Though many gave impassioned, well-prepared, moving testimony, the one who stood out (Read: Got lotsa hoots, hollers, and several rounds of applause) was Community Alliance of Tenants' Executive Director Justin Buri. He was invited to speak by the council, so he got more than the allotted three-minute time generally allowed for testimony, and he used every. single. minute. to stand up for Portland renters. Really, you should watch it, because it's a wonder to behold.
The video should start at the 48:12 mark. Buri starts talking at 48:30 if you want to fast forward. If it still won't do it correctly for you, click here to jump right to the Youtube video where Buri's testimony begins.
If you can't watch it—or if you want to follow along—there's a full transcript of Buri's testimony after the jump.
My name is Justin Buri, Executive Director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, Oregon’s only statewide, grassroots, tenant-let, renters rights organization. With over 1000 tenant members, our mission is to educate, organize and empower Oregon tenants to demand and obtain safe, stable and affordable rental housing. Low-income tenants—predominantly low-wage workers, families with children, people living with disabilities, seniors and people of color—are CAT’s primary membership base.
In Portland, and the rest of Oregon, tenants face housing injustice in the form of increasing rents, discrimination, unsafe housing conditions, and the constant threat of retaliation or eviction. Portland is one of the most gentrified cities in the nation and has among the highest rates of rent increases, displacement, and no-cause evictions. Landlords and developers issuing such evictions and dramatically raising rents are forcing responsible and reliable tenants into one of the worst rental markets in history, without considering the impact on the individual tenants, or our community. Portland’s unprecedented low vacancy rate gives landlords more power over tenants, increasing incidents of discrimination and retaliation. These conditions make it easy for a landlord to refuse when a tenant asks for a repair or demands accounting for bogus fees and deposit charges. These challenges that renters face, especially rent hikes, evictions, and other forms of displacement, are especially dire for tenants with high barriers, and members of protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.
Tenants cannot wait for incremental change. We need bold, courageous action to address this human-made disaster. Building-wide, no-cause evictions are popping up like brush fires across this city, fanning the flames of displacement as our communities continue to bleed. The flood of speculation from Wall Street, corporate landlords, and private investors, buying up buildings to empty them and raise rents, has dire consequences on people's health, economic stability and their children's educational opportunities.
We need real leadership from our Housing Commissioner, our Mayor, and from our City Council. We are in a Renter State of Emergency.
In CAT’s 19-year history, we have never seen it this bad. Tenants are in dire distress and in need of immediate relief. Mass evictions of entire buildings, 30-, 50-, even 100-percent rent increases, are impacting our communities, and threatening the social fabric of our city, and there is no end in sight. We can count the number of cranes in the air right now, building more luxury apartments, but how many of those new apartments will be affordable to low-income, or even middle-income tenants? When are we going to recognize that building only market-rate, luxury apartments, will never “trickle-down,” to lower income tenants, no matter how many we build, despite all the zoning changes, cash incentives, and sweetheart deals we offer to developers?
How long does this Council think it takes to find a decent apartment in this rental market? How many affordable apartments are available in your neighborhoods, likely with good schools, transportation options, low crime, and neighbors you know and trust?
How long would it take you to move, if you received a no-cause termination notice tomorrow?
Now imagine if you had bad credit from a foreclosure, medical debt or student loans. Would you qualify? Imagine if you received a no-cause notice after you asked for a repair. Would you put that landlord as a reference on your next rental application?
Imagine you had a criminal record, because you had once been sleeping outside, and arrested from these homeless sweeps. Imagine if you had been racially profiled, or a victim of the racist US War on Drugs, that targets African Americans and people of color.
Imagine if you made minimum wage to support your family, and worked the 72 hours per week it takes to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Where would you find the time to move?
Where would you live? Would 30, 60 or even 90 days be enough? In order to move, you have to take days off of work to find a vacancy, pay multiple application fees, hope and pray you are finally accepted, move your family, change your children’s school, find a new bus route to work, pay the deposit, first and last month’s rent, pay the movers, clean the house, and pray you get even a fraction of your deposit back.
How long would that process take for you? Is 30, 60 or 90 days enough? Do you have money in your savings to do that? For the majority of tenants, the answer is no.
Low income tenants, people of color, people with disabilities, working families making poverty wages, and seniors in a fixed income are being told, “if you don’t like it, move," which really means, “you are no longer welcome to live in this city.”
Tenants are tired and in distress. Tired of moving, tired of our homes making us sick, tired of paying over half of our income on rent. Tenants are tired of being silenced, out of fear of retribution or a bad reference from their landlord. Tenants are tired being told that our voices, our experiences, our stories, don’t matter. Tenants of tired of hearing, “housing will have to wait, we have more important priorities right now.”
Tenants make up almost half of Portland’s population, and deserve to be heard.
It’s time for bold, courageous leadership from our Housing Commissioner, our Mayor, and from our City Council. If you want to see examples of leadership, look to Chair Kafoury and the County Board of Commissioners, who have committed to housing every homeless veteran by the end of the year, through A Home for Everyone. Look to Governor Kate Brown, who helped champion $62 million for housing in her first year. Look to Speaker Tina Kotek, who fought to include tenants with Section 8 as a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, and fought to include rentals in this year’s Inclusionary Zoning bill, which ultimately died in the Senate.
If you want to see examples of real courage, look to all the renters that are here today, despite the fear of retaliation from their landlord when they speak out.
It’s time to recognize that Portland is not livable, equitable, nor sustainable, when tenants are being pushed out of their homes. It’s time to recognize that housing is a human right, and should not be left to the under-regulated free market. It’s time to prioritize the needs of all Portland residents, not just the landlords, investors, tech companies like AirBnB, and developers. It’s time to prioritize people over profit, and recognize that everyone who lives here has a right to this city.
We can no longer wait for incremental change, or accept the bread crumbs that are thrown to us, so we can count us as a win. If the intent of this 90-Day Proposal, is to act as the first step and building block to real change, and have the commitment of this Housing Commissioner, Mayor and Council, of enacting real immediate change, then we can support it. If the intent of this 90-Day proposal is to say that you all have done something, and go back to business as usual, then we cannot support it.
We are calling for a moratorium or suspension of no-cause terminations for one year, and to increase the notice period of rent increases over 5% of rent, from the current 30 days, to one year. 30-, 60-, or even 90-days’ notice is not enough, either to move quickly or absorb a shocking rent increase, especially in today's disaster-like housing crisis.
We will no longer accept that your hands are tied due to explicit or implicit preemptions on Oregon state law. If that is the case, then demonstrate the courage and leadership necessary to either change them or challenge them. The Supreme Court of the United States has reaffirmed disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act.
Both the City of Portland and the State of Oregon are currently compiling their Analysis of Impediments to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Evictions, rent hikes, displacement, and substandard housing are fair housing issues, and should be treated as such. These unjust laws and policies - such as the ban on rent control, inclusionary zoning, and the practice of no-cause evictions - should be challenged under the Fair Housing Act, just as the landlords will likely challenge this modest, 90-Day proposal, by Housing Commissioner Saltzman.
Tenants can no longer wait, for our Housing Commissioner, Mayor, and City Council to act. We need bold, courageous leadership in this human-made disaster. We are in a Renter State of Emergency.
*drops mic and walks off stage*