By Nick Perry-Guetti
On February 2nd, an Emergency Relocation Ordinance introduced by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was unanimously passed after an approximately five-hour hearing where 118 people in addition to those formally invited to testify gave testimony, overwhelmingly in favor of the ordinance. The law requires landlords who instigate no-cause evictions must pay three months rent (actually a flat rate determined by Portland Housing Bureau [PHB] information on the average rent paid by renters whom the law would affect) in relocation assistance to the tenants.
Proponents, citing PHB data as well as much direct experience, argued that in low and moderate income households, incomes are not keeping up with rent increases. Meanwhile landlords in the city have had the right, for the last thirty years, to perform no-cause evictions: a process that bypasses many of the restrictions landlords face in ordinary evictions where they must state a cause. Moving costs around 2.5 times the average monthly income of Portland renters. Short-term rent assistance has had only limited effect, and representatives of Human Solutions––a homeless sheltering organization that would be housing 5,000 people that night––reported that every homeless shelter which opens immediately fills, that a high percentage of those needing shelter are experiencing homelessness for the first time, and that the city is about 25,000 housing units short. Before the hearing, Commissioner Eudaly addressed a large and appreciative crowd gathered outside, citing her own experience of housing loss as a significant inspiration for crafting the ordinance.
The hearing had an impressive attendance. The two-floor hearing room at City Hall quickly filled, and attendees not giving testimony were obliged themselves to relocate to the nearby Portland Building to watch the proceedings via live stream in an equally packed auditorium. The overall atmosphere was of strong support for the ordinance; though some testimony expressed concerns that the law might create difficulties for landlords in some circumstances, or that the law does not go far enough to assuage the housing crisis and that overturning a current ban on rent control remains necessary. Proponents, including commissioner Eudaly, responded that landlords’ difficulties did not outweigh those of tenants, but the Commission did craft a number of amendments to the law excusing landlords under certain circumstances; they also agreed that the ordinance was only an emergency stopgap measure to arrest the sharp increase in homelessness, and that the ban on rent control was a major cause of conflict and should be reexamined. In the meantime, to avoid difficulties, landlords are encouraged to reconsider no-cause evictions unless absolutely necessary.