Should Multnomah County create a residential tenant program to provide free lawyers to all tenants facing eviction — funded by adjustable 0.75 percent capital gains tax?
That’s the wonkily-worded question on County ballots this month. It’s Measure-26-238, on the ballot courtesy of a citizen initiative that’s endorsed by multiple unions, but also opposed by one prominent local union, and by a broad cross-section of local elected leaders. We asked representatives of both the pro- and anti-campaigns to give us their best arguments as to how union households should vote.
Stable housing is crucial to a powerful labor movement. Stand with 30 local labor unions and vote YES.
By COLLEEN CARROLL
Employers depend on chaotic and expensive housing to keep workers in line; implicit in the threat of firing is the threat of eviction and homelessness. How many workers have avoided organizing for fear of losing their home? Housing security and job security are two sides of the same coin. That’s why 30 labor unions have endorsed Measure 26-238.
The people who extract wealth from workers and tenants benefit when we are siloed from collective protections. In eviction court, like in contract negotiations, legal know-how matters at least as much as the facts, so employers and landlords send teams of lawyers to negotiate on their behalf. In 2022, 80% of landlords were represented by a lawyer or an agent in Multnomah County eviction court, but only 9% of tenants were. Measure 26-238 will change that by providing free legal representation for every tenant facing eviction in Multnomah County, funded by a 0.75% increase in capital gains tax.
Measure 26-238’s legal counsel would begin as soon as landlords deliver an eviction notice. This is before the court is even involved. Early intervention prevents “self-evictions’’ as well as default judgments when tenants can’t make their court appearance due to work, childcare obligations, or an emergency. With no control over when court is scheduled, unrepresented tenants often have to request time off work to fight for their housing. If the boss says no, they’re left with an impossible choice.
Labor unions have fought hard so that workers cannot be fired without due process. Without a lawyer, tenants are at the mercy of a legal system designed to protect property, not people, and often lose their homes based on accusations, sometimes illegal ones. Presenting evidence and arguing a case in court is nearly impossible without legal training, and the procedural obstacles are enough to make tenants accept agreements that force them out of their homes unnecessarily.
Stout, a financial analysis firm, has produced 13 cost-benefit, economic impact, and program evaluation reports for similar programs all of which found that right-to-counsel saves money by avoiding the the downstream costs of eviction including around shelters, health care, foster care, and other social safety net services.
The opposition has repeatedly stated that they support right-to-counsel to reduce evictions and displacement, but disagree on the funding included in the measure. They suggest using temporary funding or general funds, which is how the current patchwork system for tenant legal support is funded — but fails to deliver services to 91% of tenants in Multnomah County. Otherwise successful programs in Kansas City, New York, and Baltimore that passed without dedicated funding, are forced to decline service to people who need representation. Providers have to engage in time-consuming budget fights and are at constant risk of budget cuts.
The program is funded by a tax on capital gains — not earned income —meaning the tax will only apply to profits from the sale of assets, like stocks or art. Capital gains are concentrated at the very top of the income ladder; the richest 5% took home nearly 83% of all the capital gains in Oregon in 2020, and less than 9% of county residents would be subject to the tax according to the City of Portland. Those of us who depend on a paycheck, an employer’s retirement plan, or social security for our income do not pay this tax.
Tenant representation works but needs stable funding to be successful. Join more than 70 labor organizations, faith groups, and elected leaders by voting yes on Measure 26-238.
Portland State University researcher Colleen Caroll is a tenant, a member of PSU-AAUP, and an organizer with Eviction Representation for All.
The proposed capital gains tax will hurt working families. Vote NO.
By JAVIER ALOMIA
This May, Multnomah County voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on a measure with good intentions, but broad unintended consequences that will hurt working families, seniors, and small businesses.
I serve as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors at Hacienda CDC, a Latino-led community development corporation that strengthens communities by providing low-income and communities of color with housing and opportunities to build stability and generational wealth. And in my day job as a real estate broker, I’ve helped hundreds of families become first-time homeowners. I know how critical it is for people to have access to safe, stable, and affordable housing.
Programs that prevent eviction, including legal representation, are an important tool to keep people housed. But Measure 26-238, which proposes an unnecessary new tax, is not the way to get that done.
Measure 26-238 would create a new 0.75% local tax on net capital gains on all residents of Multnomah County, including the profitable sale of your home or other assets, like certain retirement investments. Most taxes like this — including those at the federal and state level — have exemptions and exceptions that protect workers and families, which means most moderate and lower income people don’t currently pay taxes on capital gains they may have, like the equity when you sell a home.
But Measure 26-238 has none of these safeguards, which means everyone, regardless of income, will pay this tax on even the smallest gains. A bigger tax burden on workers, families, and seniors is the last thing we need right now.
Only big corporations won’t pay, no matter how much they profit in our community. And there are no limits to how high the adjustable tax rate can go, putting our families and workers at risk of losing what we’ve worked so hard to build and save.
The good news is voters can reject this measure, and renters will still have access to free legal representation in Multnomah County. The Metro Supportive Housing Services tax is a voter-approved tax on high income earners that already funds renter protection programs. More than $100 million from this fund is allocated to Multnomah County each year for homelessness prevention and supportive housing programs, including eviction prevention and legal representation for renters. These programs started in mid-2021. In the first year, Multnomah County helped more than 9,000 renters stay in their homes and supported 537 households by providing them with legal services through the Oregon Law Center.
And the legislature just approved a new law that requires landlords to provide information on how to access these eviction prevention programs when serving an eviction notice. This change will ensure more tenants access these important services.
These current programs make Measure 26-238 unnecessary, however well-intentioned.
And this measure has other concerning flaws. According to the City of Portland’s Revenue Division — which Multnomah County would likely contract to administer this unique tax — the costs to collect the tax would eat up about half of the revenue (and in the first year, startup costs exceed revenue estimates). It could be years before this tax generates enough revenue to hire legal representation for tenants.
Please join me — and organizations like IBEW Local 48, Hacienda CDC, APANO, and the Black Business Association of Oregon — in voting no on Measure 26-238 by May 16.
Javier Alomia is a real estate agent and vice-chair of Hacienda CDC