Portland City Council Extend Renter Protection and 'Housing Emergency' Policies

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MHCO.ORG Note:  Pressure continues to build to provide more renter rights and legalize some form of rent control or rent justification.  Portland City Council's action this afternoon is yet another precursor of more to come in the Oregon Legislature.  Stay tuned - this issue is not going away anytime soon.

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Exceptions to Portland land use rules, protections for city renters facing eviction or big rent hikes, and political pressure to devote taxpayer and donor money to affordable housing will continue for the foreseeable future, following a unanimous Portland City Council vote Wednesday.

All those measures are intended to curb Portland's critical shortage of affordable housing and spike in homelessness.

The council voted Wednesday to extend for a second time its a declared "housing emergency." It also voted to extend a renter protection policy adopted in February by six months to give city officials time to implement a permanent renter's rights policy.

Instituted in 2015, the emergency declaration has encouraged spending on housing, allowed for flexibility in where city and county officials can open shelters and fast-tracked building permits for affordable housing projects. The council extended the declaration by 18 months and charged the Portland Housing Bureau and the city and county's Joint Office on Homeless Services to develop criteria for when the city should lift the temporary rules.

Commissioners hope to implement permanent rules in the city's zoning codes by then. They might include permanent zoning exemptions that allow for homeless camps such as Right 2 Dream Too or emergency homeless shelters in the winter.

"There's more we need to do to stabilize the systems that impact housing and homelessness in our community," Mayor Ted Wheeler said. "This is an emergency that requires action now."

Led by former housing advocate and city Commissioner Chloe Eudaly early this year, the council adopted a tenant protection rule that requires landlords to pay $2,900 to $4,500 in relocation costs to renters whom they evict without cause or who must move as the result of a rent increase of 10 percent or more.

The council extended that policy, set to expire Friday, by six months. Wheeler, the housing commissioner, pledged to bring a permanent renter protection rule back to the council on December 6.

Dozens of renters urged the council Wednesday to take the rule further.

They shared experiences of landlords finding ways around the rule such as increasing rents by 9.97 percent instead of 10 percent and requiring renters to pay for utilities that the landlord previously covered.

They advocated for closing an exemption for "mom and pop" landlords who only rent one unit. The impact on the renters is harmful, regardless of who the landlord is, they said.

Many of the most vulnerable tenants rent from smaller landlords because they can't access "mainstream" rental opportunities due to criminal histories or other "troubled records," said Katrina Holland, executive director of renter advocacy group Community Alliance of Tenants.

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