Portland is rapidly gentrifying and many long time residents of modest means have been pushed to the city’s fringes or out of the city entirely. Portland is losing the very thing that for many made Portland wonderful – having people from all different income levels living amongst each other. An increased supply of market-rate apartments is doing little, if anything, to alleviate the problem.
Rising rents citywide and weak tenant protections mean that Portland’s inner-city neighborhoods are becoming less accessible to people from all income levels. Many fear that if we continue down the current path, the neighborhoods we live in will soon be exclusively the province of the wealthy.
It is within this environment that the housing affordability / justice movement is gaining momentum. More and more people are taking the position that to avoid the fate of cities like San Francisco and New York City, Portland will need to employ more than just the free market – Portland will need regulation in one form or another.
This is not an issue just for housing advocacy organizations any longer. Neighborhood Associations are taking notice. Arts organizations are taking notice. Mainstream media outlets are taking notice. SE Uplift is taking notice.
Below are just a few examples of the community organizing efforts taking place.
Portland Renters’ Assembly
Over a period of three evenings in February, artist Tori Abernathy hosted a series of conversations among community members at HQHQ Art Gallery about the current challenges facing renters in Portland. The conversations, dubbed “The First Portland Renters’ Assembly,” invited Portland residents to share their experiences as renters, learn about the history of rent and tenant struggles, and share resources for moving forward together. Guest speakers included Know Your City, members of Right to Dream Too, Portland Right to the City, and the Community Alliance of Tenants.
Each night featured a brief presentation by an invited speaker followed by an opportunity for renters in the room to share their experiences of facing eviction, renoviction, homelessness, and being priced out of their homes. Some of the stories heard included that of a woman who moved into subsidized housing after being in an accident, and finding that when she wanted to move out after recovery, she was unable to find an affordable apartment. Another woman described living with 6 roommates in a house and being afraid to push on the landlord, who refused to fix heating and flooding problems, for fear of eviction.
Among all of these stories, sterile phrases like “residential infill,” and “median family income,” were replaced by very human narratives of losing a sense of stability and a place to call home. Each night, participants thanked one another for telling their story and breaking the isolation by building a sense of common struggle. In addition to developing relationships, participants also shared and brainstormed mechanisms for addressing their needs, including carefully electing city officials, providing alternative housing options, eliminating or restricting no-cause evictions, implementing inclusionary zoning and more.
Organizations such as OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Proud Ground, Community Alliance of Tenants, Housing Land Advocates, the Welcome Home Coalition, and Oregon Opportunity Network have formed a coalition to work with local state representatives to pass HB 2564, which would repeal Oregon’s Oregon’s ban on inclusionary zoning.
Oregon is one of only two states (the other being Texas) that prohibits municipalities from using mandatory inclusionary zoning.
Supporters are confident of success this year (similar efforts have failed in the past – most notably in 2011). On February 23rd, supporters packed the first hearing of the bill in committee.
The bill will need to be passed out of the Human Services and Housing Committee in order to move forward in the legislative process. A public work session has not been scheduled yet to formally vote on the bill in committee, but community support will be needed once it is. To learn more, check out the Oregon Inclusionary Zoning Coalition and the many other organizations listed at the end of this article.
In Oregon, if you have a month-to-month lease, your landlord can evict you at any time even if you have not violated your rental agreement and you have paid your rent on time every month. If you’ve lived in your unit less than one year, landlords are only required to give you 30 days notice. If you have lived in your unit more than one year, the amount of notice required increases to 60 days.
In a tight rental market, no-cause evictions can be extremely destabilizing for individuals and families. Finding a new place to live and scraping together a deposit and first and last months’ rent can be challenging, especially for those with limited savings. Although using no-cause eviction as a form of retaliation by a landlord is technically illegal, it is very difficult to prove retaliation, and stories of tenants evicted for requesting repairs or contacting the city inspector are quite common.
Why does this matter?
Portland is a living laboratory for the many ways an Urban Growth Boundary plays out over time. That the City will have to absorb increased density is a cost of the boundary most Portlanders accept. For example, many of our neighborhood activists espouse the idea that future development follow the ideal of the “Twenty-minute neighborhood, ” where the basic necessities of work, play, food and shelter are within a reasonable commute from home. That ideal is not even remotely possible if every middle- or lower-income Portland worker can only afford to live in outer suburbs. The long term implications of such a migration are also up for question. Will the jobs follow the workers? What will happen to the school system? And, what about the growing population of Portland elders?
There are many possible answers to these questions – what will in the end, be – will be the result of many factors, not least of which is an engaged city. The future of renters in Portland is not just a problem for renters to solve, it is a charge on us all. The decisions and actions taken now will impact the entire region and generations of Portlanders.
There are no simple solutions, but the first step is increasing our understanding of, and engagement in, this issue. SE UPlift staff are currently working with members of the Oregon Inclusionary Zoning Coalition and neighbors in our area to host an April workshop educating community members about how the inclusionary zoning bill will allow SE neighbors to plan for inclusive neighborhoods and workforce housing. Keep an eye on next month’s e-news for information about that event.
A wealth of organizations are working on this issue, including:
- Center for Intercultural Organizing
- Coalition for a Livable Future
- Community Alliance of Tenants
- Fair Housing Council of Oregon
- Housing Land Advocates
- OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon
- Oregon Housing Alliance
- Oregon Inclusionary Zoning Coalition
- Oregon Opportunity Network
- Portland Right To the City
- Proud Ground
- Right to Dream Too
- Welcome Home Coalition