Portlanders who move out of their homes due to a rent increase that kicks in over the next six months will have their relocation expenses covered under new protections passed by the City Council Wednesday.
Relocation costs were already covered for big rent hikes. Since 2017, the city has required landlords to pay for moving expenses if they increase a tenant’s rent by more than 10% over the span of 12 months. The landlord must pay $2,900 to $4,500, depending on the size of the renter’s home.
But during the pandemic, which has left many Portlanders with a backlog of overdue rent and no means to pay it, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he wants to protect tenants who might need to relocate due to a more minor rent hike. Earlier this month, the mayor announced he would be pushing to temporarily modify the city’s renter relocation program, so that landlords must pay a tenant for moving expenses incurred due to any rent increase that kicks in during the COVID-19 crisis.
On Wednesday, the city council unanimously passed the change. This means landlords will need to cover moving expenses for tenants who face any rent increase that goes into effect between Sept. 16 through March 31.
The mayor, who oversees the city’s housing bureau, has warned that Portland will soon see a flood of evictions due to COVID-19. Between May and September, he has said Portlanders are collectively expected to have fallen behind on rent by $120 million to $125 million. Once the various moratoriums protecting renters expire, the bills will be due.
The change approved Wednesday, he cautioned, was merely a stopgap measure for the looming eviction crisis.
“All we’re doing is putting off the date by which a lot of people are going to be evicted from their houses,” he said. “This a Band-Aid.”
In his opening remarks, the mayor said he understood that many local landowners were in dire financial straits as a result of the pandemic. And if they fell behind on their mortgages, there was a risk these properties would be snapped up by “sovereign wealth funds, insurance trusts and New York-based private equity firms.” But he said the city was limited in the action it could take and called on the federal government to step up to prevent “a complete upending" of the local market.
The original proposal put forth by the mayor extended relocation costs for rent increases that go into effect before the end of the year. But Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, a longtime activist for tenants, pushed to extend the end date to the end of March. The council agreed.
Eudaly, who championed the original relocation rule, noted in her testimony she’s pushed for a statewide rent freeze to protect tenants. The mayor has said that’s off the table as it would require buy-in from higher levels of government that don’t seem interested. While the change approved Wednesday did not go nearly as far to assist renters, Eudaly threw her support behind it, thanking the mayor for bringing it to council.
“My team was a little bit vexed you thought of it first,” she said, laughing.
It was a notable hour of accord for a council that has felt increasingly fractured in recent months as the city is mired in months of protests, a public health crisis and a recession.
“I’m proud of the days where we’re able to accomplish something good because we actually deeply listen to each other,” said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. “We’re willing to change our minds. We’re willing to accept new information.”
And for the first time since the death of Commissioner Nick Fish, there were five council members nodding in agreement .
Commissioner Dan Ryan, who was sitting through his first-ever council meeting after being sworn in last Thursday, said he felt his colleagues had landed in the sweet spot for an emergency.
The rule goes into effect immediately.