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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Water Bureau

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Cracking the Code: How We’re Helping Renters in Need Afford Their Utility Bills

Helping renters afford their utility bill

Portland’s sewer, stormwater, and water rates pay for some of Portland’s most important infrastructure. Infrastructure like underground pipes, earthquake-ready reservoirs, above-ground fire hydrants, and 24/7 water and sewer service to nearly a million metro area residents.

But as Portland becomes less affordable, what happens when a family faces a sudden crisis and cannot pay their rent?

The Challenge: How to Reach Renters in Need

Portland Water Bureau Low Income Services HistoryFrom the Utility Safety Net Program to Flexible Bill Pay, the Water Bureau has offered a variety of financial assistance options for years. These offerings are designed to help customers in need pay for essential sewer and water services.

So what about Portlanders that live in apartments, townhomes, duplexes, and other multi-family units?

These renters use water and sewer services just like anybody else. The biggest difference is that multi-family renters don’t directly pay a sewer, stormwater, or water bill. Instead, they pay for sewer and water services indirectly in the form of rent given to their landlord. This makes it difficult to get financial help. No Water Bureau account means that multi-family renters – those without a meter measuring individual water -- never interact directly with our Customer Service specialists, who are generally the first in line to point customers to financial assistance programs when the need arises.

The challenge of helping renters in need isn’t unique to Portland. It’s a challenge faced by utilities across the country.

What makes the Water Bureau unique is that it’s found a unique solution to this challenge that has eluded utilities for decades.

Our Plan: Real Solutions for a Growing City

Tomorrow, Feb. 13th, Water Bureau staff will present several ways it can enhance its menu of low-income discount services. These improvements include an increase in the crisis voucher program, and an adjustment of the financial assistance income eligibility requirements to better reflect the needs of Portlanders, among others.

But the most anticipated improvement is a unique proposal to reach multi-family renters in need.

Partnering Up to Reach More Portlanders In Need

To expand financial assistance to these Portlanders, we’re proposing a partnership with Home Forward – Portland’s housing authority. Home Forward is a trusted city partner and a leader in local affordable housing services.

Represents about 80% of the average sewer and water consumption in a typical Portland apartment.

With Home Forward’s partnership, we will be investing in an existing program that is proven to help low-income renters in multi-family units. Home Forward relies on a number of sources of funding for its rent assistance programs. Together with the Bureau of Environmental Services, we will be adding up to $500 in eligible assistance per year for each household-in-need. With this new investment, we can reach low-income customers in apartments for the first time in our history.

The goal of this partnership is to make financial assistance available to 1,200 Portlanders each year. Our vision will be a win-win for all our customers: helping more Portlanders in need while allowing us to focus on what we do best – maintaining and building a system that delivers a constant flow of clean drinking water to almost a million Portlanders every minute of every day.