Huge tenant win at Portland City Council

On Feb. 2, Portland City Council showed just how serious it is about fighting the city’s crisis of housing affordability. In a 5-0 vote, it passed an emergency ordinance that comes as close as legally possible to rent control. [Outright rent control is banned for now under a state law the landlord lobby got the legislature to pass in 1985.]

The new city ordinance requires landlords to provide “relocation assistance” if they increase rent more than 10 percent in a year, and that causes a tenant to move — or if landlords evict a tenant without cause, which they’re legally allowed to do. The relocation assistance is $2,900 for a studio, $3,300 for a one-bedroom unit, $4,200 for a two-bedroom, and $4,500 for three bedroom or larger unit. The figures are based on two months rent plus deposit at the city’s average rent for similarly sized units. The ordinance doesn’t apply to landlords that have only one rental unit in Portland, or who live with their tenants.

The emergency ordinance comes amid a rapid rise in rents that is fast turning Portland into a city where working people can’t afford to live. Portland rents have risen on average 30 percent since 2012. City Council declared an official housing emergency on Oct. 7, 2015, and later extended that for another year. The new ordinance took effect immediately, and will remain in effect at least until Oct. 6, 2017, when the official housing emergency is currently set to expire.

The ordinance was sponsored by newly-elected Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who defeated incumbent Commissioner Steve Novick after making housing affordability her number one issue. Newly sworn-in Mayor Ted Wheeler co-sponsored the ordinance. The vote took place after six straight hours of public testimony, including heated opposition from landlords, and impassioned support from tenants mobilized by the group Portland Tenants United. Portland Tenants United — which has been endorsed by Northwest Oregon Labor Council, the Oregon AFL-CIO, and other labor groups — will next campaign for the state Legislature to lift the ban on rent control. Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek has said she’s in favor of that.

MORE: The City Council ordinance is here and the City Code changes here.

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