Documenting the lived experience and human condition

Rents, Tents, Development: Who Does City Council Represent

Location: Revolution Hall
Filmed by: Mary Anne Funk/Ailgif Studios
Co-Sponsors: Portland Mercury, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Know Your City, Portland Tenants United, Portland Right to the City Coalition, KBOOA debate with Chloe Eudaly and Steve Novick in Portland, Oregon

About: A provocative and informative event where we will press for our candidates’ honest thoughts about how housing intersects with other social justice causes, and their vision of how we can take local action to change housing policy in our city.

Debate Questions from Slide Show:

Question 1: We’ve heard a lot about potential state legislation to end no-cause evictions and overturn the ban on rent control. But the Legislature won’t convene until February, nor adjourn until July, and we have no guarantee that they will pass a strong enough relief bill for tenants. All the while, Portland isn’t building enough new units, and most new homes are unaffordable for low-income people. For renters facing a $500 rent increase, the prospect of being forced to sleep in the rain, or a no-cause eviction, who can’t wait for new development or the state, how will you be their housing champion NOW?

Question 2: Recently, the City evicted hundreds of campers from the Springwater Corridor, while acknowledging that there was nowhere else for them to go. That is, incidentally, considered unconstitutional by the US Department of Justice. Indianapolis has enacted an ordinance which requires the city to have sufficient resources to house homeless campers before sweeps can occur. Would you support such an initiative in Portland? What other protections should we extend to our city’s ballooning and vulnerable houseless population?

Question 3: Organized camps like Hazelnut Grove have been a flashpoint recently, but the people who live in them say that they offer community and safety, which are often hard to come by on the streets. Both of you, as well as Mayor-elect Wheeler have suggested tent camping and organized camps are not part of a long term solution. Yet, the majority of our global population don’t live like you do: under a roof, and there are many cultural and ecological reasons for supporting alternative modes of shelter. What is your position on organized camps? Is brick-and-mortar, so to speak, the only acceptable form of housing?

Question 4: Conversations around Portland’s housing crisis often turn quickly to a debate about rent control, which tends to focus on whether or not it “works”. But most renters in Portland would likely agree that not having some form of rent control definitely isn’t “working”. As you both know, the state’s ban on rent control does allow the City of Portland to enact an emergency rent control ordinance in times of emergencies, natural or manmade, where rental housing supply is affected. But the city has claimed that such an ordinance would be immediately challenged in court. When it comes to protecting the health and welfare of Portland and its residents, what is your opinion on ordinances that challenge state laws? When is the risk of litigation warranted? When is it not? Is there any value to taking action, even if it ultimately ends up just being symbolic?

Question 5: Portland relies heavily on private-market development to provide affordable housing, and builds very little housing that the City operates itself. Do you believe that housing should continue to be merely a commodity that a privileged few Portlanders can afford, or should housing be a legally-enforced right? And along those lines, to what extent should or could the City invest in publicly-funded community housing types, like outright public housing, land-banking, community land trusts, or cooperative housing?

Question 5: We often hear that our housing crisis is merely a matter of supply and demand, and that building more units is the long-term solution. On the other hand, we also hear significant anti-development rhetoric, often from already-privileged areas which are concerned with the “character of the neighborhood,” a character shaped by racially-exclusionary practices like redlining, which legally denied people of color the opportunity to own homes or build community in all but a few parts of Portland until the 1990s. Are these anti-development arguments beneficial or an obstacle to an affordable Portland? Who benefits and who’s injured by arguments against increased density?

Question 6: When it comes to housing, one size absolutely does not fit all. In particular, advocates for immigrant & refugee communities have argued that Portland needs more large-family housing, suitable for larger and multigenerational families. This type of housing isn’t addressed by luxury developments, nor by conversations around so-called “missing-middle” housing. How will you address the need for housing that is affordable and suitable for larger families?

Question 7: On Election Day, Portlanders will consider a $258.4 million housing bond which promises to build at least 1,300 homes. If it hits that benchmark, that’s at a cost of roughly $200,000 per unit, which is expensive compared to other cities and other kinds of development. Are we paying too much? What can the city do to spur more affordable housing, more quickly and less expensively?

Question 8: Home Forward, our housing authority, offers limited short-term rental assistance to tenants in a housing crisis. These payments have been successful in preventing homelessness, but are effectively subsidies to landlords who can keep moving the goalposts on rent , thereby creating more demand for short term rental assistance from low-income Portlanders. Without ceilings on rent or regulations on rent increases, Do you believe that short-term rental assistance is a sustainable solution?

Question 9: Utilities in rentals are increasingly being paid by tenants, which can contribute significantly to affordability issues. Would you support or champion initiatives that require rental housing to be energy efficient, to help reign in these costs and promote sustainability?

Question 10: Matthew Desmond, a Harvard sociologist and recent MacArthur genius grant recipient, writes in his book, Evicted: “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women … Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” He goes on to say that “Eviction, whether carried out by a sheriff or marshal, or done informally with the tenant simply leaving the dwelling without going to court, destabilizes communities and is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.” In Portland, we have no data on evictions, whether no-cause, for-cause, or court ordered. This limits our ability to identify racial disparities and track other adverse trends. Would you support or champion an initiative to record all termination notices, with complete demographic data, in Portland?

Question 11: Will you ensure that inclusionary zoning implementation in Portland is as strong, or stronger, than required by state law? That is, will you support requiring that 20% of new homes in 20-unit or larger building are affordable to those making 80% of our region’s median family income and below, while ensuring affordable units benefit from location in high opportunity areas?

Question 12: Do you agree the police union’s recently-passed contract should have been negotiated in public?

Question 13: In most of Portland, new apartment buildings are required to have a minimum number of off-street parking spaces, which raises the cost of development, hence rent. Do you support minimum-parking requirements for rental housing?

Question 14: It’s so expensive to run for city office in Portland. Candidates are forced to spend more and more time raising money from networks of wealthy donors. And that creates barriers for people from underrepresented backgrounds to be able to run for office. Which is part of the reason why we’ve only had 2 people of color, 7 women, and 2 people east of 47th Ave ever elected to the council. If elected, will you support enacting the Open and Accountable Elections program proposed by Commissioner Fritz, which would provide matching public campaign funding for qualified candidates?

Question 15: Lack of fair housing enforcement, unforgiving screening criteria on rental applications, and up-front move-in costs for application fees/security deposits/first and last month’s rent all work together to create insurmountable barriers for people looking for rental housing. And even when a prospective tenant qualifies for a home, a landlord can still choose among their favorite applicants. Hardest hit by these barriers are people of color and low-income Portlanders, which contributes to displacement and even forces people out onto the street. What will you do to address this?

Question 16: In Portland, the average Black family can’t afford market-rate rents in a single neighborhood, as a result of racialized income inequality. That contributes to gentrification, which has displaced our Black community out of North and Northeast Portland. What specific goals, policies, or programs will you support to build wealth and economic opportunity for Black Portlanders, so that they can afford to live and work in Portland? And do you support a Right to Return or preference policy to create housing options for those impacted by gentrification and displacement? Is just investing in preferential housing enough to rebuild these communities?

Question 17: How will you ensure that dense, walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods are accessible to all low-income Portlanders? In other words, how do you prevent Portland from becoming a city where low-carbon, sustainable living is only available to the rich?

Question 18: What’s the metric of success for a City Commissioner? How do we know when City Council is doing a good job? And what qualities make for a competent member of Council?

Question 19: Portland’s City Council has historically been and currently is dominated by white men from the west side of the Willamette. Many perceive this as part of the reason that our city often has a problem with creating opportunities to effect change for those directly impacted by the issues. For example, in the case of the proposal to turn Terminal 1 into a mass shelter, the houseless community has been left out of the discussion. We have a public involvement program which seeks input from neighborhood associations, nonprofit organizations, and policy advisory committees, but often in unmeaningful ways, which can feel like the City is merely “checking a box” on involvement. What will you do to ensure that underserved voices are meaningfully given seats at the table in developing solutions for the issues which impact them? Specifically, how will you lift up people of color, the houseless, low-income Portlanders, and residents of outer East Portland?

Question 20: If elected, either of you could be considered the most progressive member of Council. And that means Portland’s progressive community will look to you for your leadership on all issues, especially housing and social justice. Pick a bureau other than Portland Housing Bureau and explain how you’d use that bureau to advance housing justice.

Question 21: For Steve Novick: Commissioner, Chloe has repeatedly criticized you for taking substantial checks from Portland developers and other industry groups which contribute to our housing crisis. Those types of contributions have been a mainstay in Portland politics for years. Why should voters not be concerned that these donors might have your attention more than the average Portlander?

For Chloe Eudaly: In criticizing Commissioner Novick, you’ve essentially accused three of your potential future colleagues on City Council of being bought and paid-for by developers or other special interests. At the same time, Portland’s political process depends heavily on good relationships and coalition-building. How will you work successfully with your fellow members of City Council, given this critique?

Question 22: Portland has unique rules that attempt to rein in the abuse of short-term rental platforms like AirBnB, which have directly led to the loss of at least 1,000 long-term rentals in Portland. Portland Housing Bureau Director, Kurt Creager, estimated it would cost the city over $350 million to replace this housing. Yet it’s easy to find flagrant violations of those City rules. What will you do to strengthen our regulation of AirBnB, or ensure that the rules are followed? And when the City refuses to enforce its own regulations, who should be held accountable for the consequences?

Question 23: This has been a hard-fought race between two qualified, progressive candidates. In fact, it may be the only campaign between two Bernie supporters in the entire country. But only one of you will win. What’s one message you’ve heard from your opponent’s campaign that you’ll bring with you into office?

Question 24: What’s one reason voters should choose your opponent?