In April, residents of Holgate Manor, a Southeast Portland apartment complex, were politely asked to leave—or else. In exchange, the building’s new owner, Fred Kleinbub, promised a few thousand dollars to help them move out. If Holgate Manor’s residents chose to stay, Kleinbub warned, they’d face a 9.9 percent rent increase by July.
Kleinbub’s proposed rent increase falls just under the 10 percent threshold that would have forced him to cover the relocation costs for all of his tenants under the city’s 2017 renter relocation ordinance. But by keeping the rent increase at 9.9 percent, Kleinbub could instead use his own financial incentive to quietly nudge some anxious tenants to self-evict—and legally price out the rest.
It worked. Renters living in 23 of Holgate Manor’s 82 units took advantage of the move-out offer, splintering a close-knit community.
Some of the remaining tenants are now withholding their newly increased rent until Kleinbub improves their current apartments, which they say are moldy and rodent-infested.
The Holgate Manor debacle is a microcosm of what many renters are experiencing across Portland, both in apartments and single-family homes. As landlords skirt city penalties by barely adhering to new regulations, the 45 percent of Portlanders who rent—some 300,000 individuals—are left with few options. Despite a dedicated push from city hall to strengthen tenant protections, Portland is far from creating the kind of stability for renters that Mayor Ted Wheeler promised on the campaign trail.
But Holgate Manor’s blunders might inform future pro-renter policies.
One place to begin: Requiring that landlords give advance notice to their tenants and the city before putting a residential property on the market. The city currently has no tracking system to know when a building like Holgate Manor is for sale, let alone the ability to catch the listing before it’s nabbed by a private investor.
“There is a huge lack of [city] oversight,” says Holgate Manor resident Sara Brassfield. “We could be investing in our community instead of splitting it apart.”
According to Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, resistance from the city’s powerful lobby of landlords and property developers has made that investment process difficult.
“Many people think the city can fix the housing crisis,” says Eudaly, who championed last year’s relocation ordinance. “But new regulations from the city face extraordinary resistance. Anyone who thinks we can solve the housing crisis without regulation is kidding themselves.”
Eudaly is in the midst of getting city council to pass a new tenant screening process—one that will ideally make it easier and more affordable for renters to find housing. After that, she says, the focus will be on new rules that give the city and tenants a 90-day notice before a rental property is put on the market—and the first chance to purchase the property.
While these proposed policies can’t help Holgate Manor’s current tenants, they’re hoping their pushback will help protect future Portland-area renters.
“It’s like planting a seed,” says Brassfield, “for a tree you won’t sit under.”