Every night from her second-story window, Mary Latourette could see homeless men and women lining up outside the Harbor Light Shelter. Little did she know how close she was to sharing their fate. As a Section Eight recipient, she was guaranteed by federal law to pay no more than 30 percent of her income towards rent. But then, a year ago, the owner of her building, Western Room Apartments, decided the rooms at SW 2nd and Ankeny would be more valuable as commercial space and told residents--some who had lived there 30 years--to clear out within 120 days.

With the help of Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), a small NE renter advocacy group, Latourette and her fellow tenants lobbied the city (unsuccessfully) to buy and subsidize their building as low-rent housing. Ultimately, Latourette relocated elsewhere.

But not everyone is as fortunate, and as the homeless population climbs and economic hardships continue to jeopardize housing for thousands in Portland, the demand for renters' rights is at an all-time high. In particular shortage is the so-called Section Eight housing.

Since their inception in 1996, CAT has been fighting to preserve affordable housing. But currently their crusade has taken on a certain urgency in the city's urban renewal areas--the Westside Park Blocks, the South Waterfront and the North Interstate Urban Renewal Corridor.

Ian Slingerland, CAT organizer, explains that often the city doesn't set aside enough money from renewal projects to safeguard the buildings that house Portland's poorest residents.

"The city needs to identify places to buy early on, before property values go up too much and before displacement starts to happen," he says. "What's happened along Interstate is that all the money went into the light rail and not enough money went into preserving buildings."

CAT's monthly tenant meeting is Tuesday, February 11, 6 pm at the Augustana Lutheran Church, 2710 NE 14th. CAT's next Renters' Rights Hotline training is Sunday, February 9 from 2:30 - 6 pm. Call 288-0130 for more information.