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We live in the wealthiest country in the world, yet we learned this week that there is not a state left in our union where a full-time worker earning federal minimum wage can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. In Portland, where our minimum wage is significantly higher than the federal minimum wage, a full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford the average rent on a one-bedroom apartment, they cannot afford the average rent on a studio apartment, and they cannot even afford the average rent for a room in a shared house.
We are experiencing a national housing crisis driven by our federal government's divestment in affordable housing. By state and local governments who have failed to meet the growing need for affordable housing, adequately regulate their rental markets, and to protect and stabilize tenants. By Wall Street, who is not only responsible for our housing crash but has been snapping up thousands upon thousands of multifamily and single-family residences in our city while showing rampant disregard for the people who reside in them. And finally by multiple industries, not the least of which is the landlord lobby, with a vested financial interest in extracting every penny from renters with no regard for the impact on their renters, our communities, or our local economy.
We know that half of the renters in Portland are cost-burdened by housing expenses. We know that housing discrimination, both intentional and unintentional, is still prevalent. We know that there is an overwhelming correlation between affordability and homelessness. The challenges and needs are overwhelming. We need 24,000 additional deeply affordable units just to house our extremely low-income residents. It's going to take many years, possibly decades, to fill that gap, but something we can achieve much more rapidly is protecting and stabilizing tenants, and decreasing barriers to securing housing, which is critical to our overall housing strategy. This policy package is a significant contribution to that effort.
I've talked enough about our housing crisis, our failures, and the devastating outcomes over the course of the three public hearings this item has had. Today, I want to focus my remarks on the lessons I've learned while developing this policy with my team and our many stakeholders.
When we began the challenge of changing tenant protections in Portland, we knew we would face intense scrutiny and resistance. As mostly tenants ourselves, we had our own experiences of obstacles and challenges that inform our perspectives. But what we didn't fully realize, and what we had to learn was that extrapolating from our own limited experience wasn't enough. It took some courageous partners to look us in the eye and tell us we were not centering the right people--those who faced the most disproportionate impacts of our housing policies. What we learned was that racism and discrimination are deeply embedded in everything we do, despite our best intentions, even our own policy-making processes were flawed, and without genuinely confronting that reality, we stood to perpetuate harm to many of the people we were setting out to serve.
It is no secret that Portland has a long history of overtly racist housing laws—the effects of which still shape our City today. What we fail to acknowledge more readily is that many of our current laws continue to uphold discriminatory practices. While the language may be less explicit now, the effect is just as clear: we continue to see communities of color, and especially Black residents, pushed to the margins of our City and beyond at an alarming rate.
The heart of the Fair Access in Renting policies is about addressing the criteria that continue to be used in as a proxy for race, which includes criminal records, income requirements, and credit scores which leads to discrimination and disparate outcomes. We would never have come to these policy solutions if we did not consider the unique experiences, needs, and barriers faced by Black renters in Portland. The policies before us today would not have been as strong if they were not developed in partnership with our community allies. I believe that, as policymakers, we are most effective when we listen to and champion the solutions put forth by impacted communities. When we recognize individuals as not just stakeholders, but as the best experts on their own lives. We must take the time to develop authentic relationships, listen with an open mind and heart, and have the faith and courage to advance these community-developed solutions.
Believe me when I tell you that we also turned to the industry experts. While we did receive input and support from some housing providers, what we received most of was opposition to any change at all. My staff spent many hours with landlords big and small, imploring them to provide some meaningful suggestions that would get us to the outcomes we all agree on. The gist of what we heard from most landlords is that while everyone agrees that discrimination is wrong, no one wants to be compelled to do anything about it. We heard from small landlords that they're not professional enough to implement our policies and from large landlords and property management companies that they are too professional. What substantive suggestions we did get from them that did not compromise the outcomes of increased access were incorporated into the final policy, including the two-track system that gives landlords a choice about how they screen applicants.
I do not claim that the Fair Access in Renting package solves all our problems, nor do I believe the communities themselves are happy and satisfied with everything in it. But together, we built the most comprehensive screening criteria reform policy in the country, and I am proud of how we did it and why.
I want to thank everyone who worked with us to make this happen. Because we worked with a lot of people, this is going to take a few minutes:
Fair Housing Council of Oregon, especially Yoni and Allan: You held our feet to the fire on Fair Housing guidance and got us to abandon a different version of the policy that went too far astray of what the federal government says is best practice. Because of that, our policy is defensible, and its foundation is strong. Thank you!
Community Alliance of Tenants, especially Katrina and Pam: You were the ones who first alerted us to the ways in which our policies could cause more harm than good if we didn't center the lived experiences of people of color first in the work we do. You were with us every step of the way to make sure we stayed focused on the most impacted communities, and you weren't afraid to push back when we didn't. Thank you!
Urban League of Portland, especially Hannah: Much like CAT, you were steadfast in your stance that this policy must make actual change for impacted communities. You openly refused to endorse until you were confident that they were strong enough to do good for Black communities. You pushed us continually to be brave and to imagine what was possible. Your official endorsement is one of our proudest achievements. Thank you!
Oregon Law Center and Legal Aid Services of Oregon, especially Christina and Becky: Your constant vigilance and your expertise pertaining to what tenants really face in the rental housing market was invaluable. You also steered us toward some of the most profound research available and guided us on what other cities and states are moving toward to make sure we're in alignment with recognized best practices. Thank you!
OneApp Oregon, especially Tyrone: While we may still disagree about the potential outcomes of this policy, I know you worked very closely with my office on your own time and took some real risks with your business to help us get the data we needed to make sure we were moving in the right direction. Your platform gave us the informational foundation we needed to ensure we remained centered on the communities we intended to serve. Thank you!
Central City Concern, especially Mercedes: While you came a little later into the policy development, the work you did to support these changes, as well as the immense amount of experience and policy brilliance you brought to the table, was invaluable. We got over the finish line in no small part thanks to your efforts to build bridges where we still had chasms. Thank you!
Dr. Lisa Bates: Without your expertise in data and housing research, we would never have been able to demonstrate the potential outcomes of increased housing access for the tenants we centered. We are forever grateful that you made time to work with us and use your award-winning skills to strengthen what the community has always known needed to happen to open doors for renters facing extraordinary barriers. Thank you!
I would also like to thank the many people and organizations that spent untold hours with us developing this policy and pushed us to understand the broad complexities and its impacts on everyone in the system. So big thank you's to the New Portlanders Policy Commission, Margot Black and members of Portland Tenants United, SE Works, NW Pilot Project, Portland Commission on Disability, Home Forward, Human Solutions, Reach CDC, Transition Projects, PCRI, the Rental Services Commission, the Human Rights Commission, SW Corridor Tenant Leadership Group, the Fair Housing Commission, Pacific Screening, National Association of Professional Background Screeners, Cascade Property Management, ARC Transitions, IRCO, and Tim Pitts with Think Real Estate.
I want to thank the people and organizations who gave testimony or sent in letters of support including Unite Oregon, members of the Portland for Everyone Coalition, Coalition for Communities of Color, Portland African American Leadership Forum, Oregon Public Health Institute, JOIN, Cully Housing Action Team, Bridge Housing, Catholic Charities of Oregon, Rental Providers for Positive Change, Hacienda CDC, Housing Development Center, Madeline Kovacs, Rose CDC, and small landlords like Henry Kramer and others who stuck their neck out within their own industry to support tenants.
I want to thank the external parties and elected officials that lent their endorsements of our work including PolicyLink, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson, Sharon Meieran, and Susheela Jayapal, and Metro Councilors Bob Stacy, Sam Chase, and Shirley Craddick.
I want to thank my colleagues for their time, their advice, and their support of this complex issue we asked them to face head-on. I know it wasn't easy to absorb and understand what took us a couple years to create. In particular, I want to thank Commissioner Hardesty and Commissioner Fish: I’m grateful for the trust they put in the community and us. Thank you to the Mayor for allowing Cupid Alexander and the Portland Housing Bureau to attend many development meetings and for lending input into the final drafts.
Finally, I want to thank my Director of Policy, Jamey Duhamel, for spending the better part of the last two years developing these policies and weaving her way through all the organizations, housing providers, advocates, and lawyers to arrive at where we are today. And to my entire team for fielding calls, directing traffic, pushing out our message, and for always upholding our values with everyone who engaged with our office.
I am proud of the policy our office helped create with the community, and I am excited to see how it changes the way tenants access housing over time. We know it will take time for tenants to understand and for the industry to adjust. We know some fine-tuning will be necessary. But we also know that research and data have laid a solid foundation for the decisions we made. We know that doing nothing isn't working for people who have long been neglected by those of us who have the power to change it. Whatever challenges we may face, we can feel confident that in the end, we are doing the right thing for the right reasons.
This is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. I vote aye.