by Nancy Hedrick
SUMMARY: By a strong majority, the Multnomah County Democrats endorsed “Eviction Representation for All” (Measure 26-238) at the central committee meeting on March 9, 2023. The data below illustrate how Oregon evictions have dramatically increased in recent months, up to over 2,000 in some months. The combination of sharply rising rents with the end of two key pandemic-period tenant protections in 2022, have resulted in this housing crisis.
The following is a revised version of the presentation at the March Central Committee meeting, as well as an expansion of the voter pamphlet statement submitted by the author above (from HD44), Sally Joughin (HD42), and Nan Stark (Campaign & Candidate Liaison Chair, HD46). More than 8,000 evictions have occurred in Multnomah County during the last 14 months (36% of the state total, per (per www.evictedinoregon.com), a stark reminder of why this county initiative addresses a very compelling need. The experience elsewhere shows that added legal services can reduce the number evicted. And this figure may be a gross underestimate of what is actually going on, since as these data only account for court filings and not the number of notices to vacate that occurred before the court process.
SO MANY EVICTED
One national analysis estimated that 5.5 informal evictions occur for each officially tabulated one (https://nlihc.org/resource/research-examines-measurement-eviction-rates-american-housing-survey). While 60% of owners had legal representation at eviction court this January, only 2% of tenants had such legal help, per PSU’s Center for Urban Studies’ eviction research. Rent control caps are inadequate, as 2023 rents were allowed to rise by 14.6%. The clear majority of evictions are because of inability to pay.
It is crucial that we quickly address our county’s astronomical increase in evictions.
TENANT LEGAL HELP LIMITED
Multnomah County provides funds for the “Eviction Defense Project” through the Oregon Law Center (OLC). But media reporting and others’ personal accounts indicate that these funds are insufficient. At our March 9th meeting, a party member reported that he and a neighbor were both under threat of eviction. They were unable to arrange services through OLC in a timely fashion, after trying to do so by telephone and online. The Portland chapter of Democratic Socialists of America supports the legal aid of 26-238 (https://portlanddsa.org/campaigns/): “As it stands, the balance of power overwhelmingly favors landlords.”
PANDEMIC RELIEF IS ENDING
Important pandemic relief—rental assistance and allowing renters more time to challenge evictions—expired in 2022 (www.evictedinoregon.com/numbers-at-a-glance). Relatedly, numbers evicted rose sharply in late 2022. Measure 26-238, in addition to strengthening our county’s commitment to eviction representation, will include essential rental assistance.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT HOUSING HELPS FEW
We know our county cannot keep up with the immediate demand for low-income housing. Portland is struggling to create “safe rest villages” or other transitional housing, but such city-supported shelter only helps a small fraction of those being evicted—a mere drop in the bucket compared to the need. In a February KGW interview, Commissioner Dan Ryan said, “The villages that have opened so far have helped 70 people transition out of homelessness,” which is clearly not enough.
A GOOD COMMUNITY INVESTMENT
Let’s back this measure to help our neighbors and neighborhoods. The funds raised by the proposed measure, sby instituting a 0.75% net capital gains tax, will address an urgent need (with the first $250,000 profit from a residence sale exempt for individuals and $500,000 similarly for couples). This measure will raise funds for enhanced tenant service, which can aid neighborhood livability and reduce the future number of newly homeless. It is easier to maintain people in their current housing than to re-house them later from the streets. We can all relate to the heartbreak of losing one’s home. This trauma carries a significant psychological toll.
We should treat housing as a human right and go beyond letting market forces exert such a negative influence. We should follow the path of other cities like New York, Seattle, and San Francisco, and offer this legal service to tenants in full. As the Ballot Measure 26-238 campaign states, that New York City has seen an 84% success rate in reducing evictions.
Key References relating to Measure 26-238:
Eviction Representation for All campaign: www.eratenants.org
County Elections statement: https://www.multco.us/elections/ballot-measure-filings-may-2023-special-election
- Portland Tribune, “My View: Eviction representation for all will strengthen our community and economy,” 3/21/23.
- OPB, “Eviction prevention programs bring stability to those on the brink,” 2/27/23.
- Rent Hike: KGW News, “Oregon Renters, Landlords react to next year’s 14.6% rent increase cap,” 9/14/22.
- Eviction Surge: Willamette Week, “Evictions Surge in Multnomah County,” 12/14/22.
- Market Forces: Portland Tribune, “Wall Street Moves in on Affordable Housing,” 9/8/15 (covers more than affordable housing).
- Comm. Ryan interview: KGW, “Dan Ryan says Safe Rest Villages remain a priority”, 2/10/23.
Nancy Hedrick is a PCP in HD 44.