Opening Statement: Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
City Council Meeting PM
February 2, 2017
I have been living and breathing affordable housing and tenants’ rights issues for the past two years. It’s what inspired me to run for City Council and is in no small part why I was elected, because the fact is that the majority of Portlanders support rent stabilization and increasing tenant protections.
Some people have asked me, “What’s the rush on this ordinance?” The fact is members of my team were working on relocation for months before we took office and this housing crisis has been growing for the past decade. So we have to ask: what’s taking so long?
Emotions are high on both sides of this debate. For the past 30 years, landlords have been allowed to involuntarily displace tenants through no-cause and de facto economic evictions. And now we’re asking them to share in the burden that has been wrought on our residents, our communities, our city and our entire region. The fact is we’re all paying for this crisis, whether it’s through the public dollars we spend on affordable housing, rental assistance and homelessness, or the various ways this crisis is harming our neighborhoods, communities, schools, small businesses, local economy and the overall quality of life for all of our residents.
As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently said, “Governing by anecdote is not governing. It’s demagoguery.” And it’s been disappointing and frustrating to witness opponents to tenant protections – whether community members, lobbyists or legislators – resort to playing on the public’s emotions and prejudices rather than basing their positions on facts. But I’m going to share a personal anecdote with you today anyway.
My parents became landlords in 1979, when they bought their second home and moved our family from Gales Creek to Sherwood. Early on, they made a misjudgment in tenants and ended up having to evict them for non-payment of rent and other serious infractions. The tenants responded by breaking every window in the house, filling it with garbage and using it as a dog kennel for an untold number of days, so you can imagine what that looked like. My father was driving home from assessing and photographing the damage on a rainy day in October 1983. He lost control of his vehicle on a tight curve, hit an oncoming truck and died instantly. So, if you’ve come here today to conjure up the bad tenant bogeyman, the one that precludes us from protecting any tenants, lest we somehow benefit him, please save your breath. I have already met him. And I recognize him for what he is: an anomaly among an ocean of good tenants who follow the rules, who desperately need their deposits back, who are highly dependent on their landlords’ good reference, in one of the most competitive rental markets this city has ever seen.
If you have a bad tenant, you have clear legal recourse and the law is weighted in the landlords’ favor. We don’t call our eviction court an “eviction mill” for nothing. If you’ve come here today to argue exemptions for mom-and-pop landlords who may experience some level of financial hardship, if required to pay relocation assistance, let me remind you: landlords have been placing that very same hardship on tenants who are generally lower income and have less financial resources than property owners. This is a temporary emergency ordinance intended to stabilize or assist renters at risk of involuntary displacement during our housing crisis. We hope that it will be short-lived, but that will require the state legislature to overturn the ban on rent control and give the city back its regulatory tools.
In the meantime, there is an easy way to avoid relocation assistance: do not no-cause evict your tenants and don’t raise their rent 10 percent or more per year.
If you’ve come here today to tell us, “We must simply build our way out of this crisis,” I can confidently tell you, as the Commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Development Services and someone with a newfound inside view of our Housing Bureau, it will take decades to build our way out. And that’s only if developers are willing to start building for existing demand, which is not the market rate in luxury housing that they are primarily delivering.
If you’ve come here today to suggest that renters just move or get better jobs, it shows an utter lack of understanding around who is taking the brunt of the impact created by our housing crisis. Seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes don’t have the resources to move or the ability to get better jobs. People of color who have faced historic and ongoing discrimination in both the housing and job markets also tend to have more limited resources and options. Telling someone with limited resources to leave behind their family, their friends and their community, in search of elusive affordable housing elsewhere, is terrible advice.
Finally, this is not a “landlord versus tenant” conversation. We are not seeking to demonize or penalize landlords, but we are asking them to recognize their role in our housing crisis and share in the burden they’re creating, not just for their renters but our entire city, when they choose to involuntarily displace a renter through no fault of the renter. We’ve heard from many landlords who support this ordinance, some of whom will be testifying today, who know that they can profitably operate their business, whether they choose to avoid triggering relocation or not. We don’t blame landlords for not recognizing how the forces of urban renewal, gentrification, displacement and limited tenant protections converged to create this crisis over the past 30 years, but there’s no denying the outcome. Half our residents are renters. Half of renters are cost-burdened by rent. And half of those renters, approximately 75,000 people, live in households that are spending over 50 percent of their income on housing. These households are being forced to choose between paying rent and paying the heating bill, paying rent and paying for vital medical care, paying rent and paying the grocery bill. This is unsustainable, it’s unacceptable, and none of the good people of Portland – renters, homeowners or landlords – should be willing to sit idly by and let this crisis continue unchecked.