East Portland tenants desperately trying to fight a looming 45 percent rent increase took a novel tack earlier this week: Shaming their landlord in his own neighborhood.
Members of the Ash Street Tenants Association and supportive renters' rights advocates spent Tuesday peppering Raleigh Hills homes and telephone poles with flyers taking to task local resident Landon Marsh. Marsh's company, Soaring Point Professional Offices, purchased an apartment building near SE 120th and Ash in June. The company immediately set about jacking up rents while tenants say the complex remained in disrepair—an act that for some has made Marsh a shining example of greed and opportunism in the city's real estate market. Marsh did not immediately return a call for comment.
According to tenants, Marsh plans to charge $1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment at the complex, a $375 rent increase that many tenants say might as well be an eviction notice. But while their outcry has given the tenants more time to decide whether they'll stay or go, it's still moving ahead.
"We already live where people were told to go who can't afford rent in Portland," a tenant of the building said last week, testifying before Portland City Council, which was considering whether to extend the city's housing "state of emergency." "A choice between a $375 rent increase or eviction is an eviction from Portland."
So tenants brought the fight to Southwest Portland this week. Portland Tenants United, a local advocacy group that's been demanding stepped-up renter protections, helped the group distribute flyers to Marsh's neighbors.
"Your neighbor Landon Marsh needs to hear from you," it reads. "His actions are threatening to displace all of the families living in the apartment complex he recently purchased. All of us living in this complex face homelessness if Landon won’t help."
Here's a copy of the flyer.
PTU says the group delivered the flyers to roughly 40 homes near what the group says is Marsh's home on Soutwest Laurel Leaf Terrace. They didn't actually speak with any homeowners, according to PTU member Gabriel Erbs.
"We are very intentionally leaving that step as an escalation," Erbs says. "If we have to knock on doors, we will. We want people to be aware of the slumlord."
Asked whether he believed neighbors would actually put pressure on Marsh, Erbs conceded he couldn't say.
"I would just point out that the lack of tenant protections on the books leaves us very little choice for how we can protect tenants," he said.
That dearth of options has been at the heart of what PTU and other groups, like the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), have been railing against for the last year. CAT last year began calling for a housing state of emergency before Mayor Charlie Hales showed any inkling he wanted to invoke such a designation. But that state of emergency hasn't gone the direction tenant advocates had envisioned. They wanted it to be used to spur a rent freeze and other protections in the city—and they've repeated the call for one frequently.
Pretty much any entity tracking rents nationwide concludes Portland has among the fastest-rising rents in the country. For instance, a recent survey from Realpage, a company that develops property management software, Portland saw an 8.8 percent rent increase for "new residents" between mid 2015 and mid 2016, second only to Sacramento.
PTU is planning another rally to push for rent protections on September 17.