Leonardo Cruz and his emotional support dog, Aurora, at their home in Portland, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

On Jan. 25, Leonardo Cruz arrived home and discovered a final eviction notice taped to his front door.

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Back in August, security footage had captured Cruz bringing an “unauthorized dog” into Pearl Court, an affordable housing building in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District. The final notice was posted next to a bright red sticker shaped like a paw print: “SERVICE DOG LIVES HERE.”

Cruz said the building manager from Income Property Management, the company that oversees his building for the region’s public housing authority Home Forward, told him she never received the required paperwork he dropped off that included a doctor’s signature. The latest notice said Cruz, a district manager for a cluster of Subways downtown, had until last Friday when he would be pushed out of his sunny, plant-filled one-bedroom and back into homelessness.

Cruz remained in the home over the weekend. He said his attorney is still working to fight the case and reach a last-minute agreement with Income Property Management to avert the eviction.

When it comes to evictions, Home Forward, the state’s largest provider of affordable housing, has earned a reputation among many local tenant attorneys and advocates as refreshingly tolerant with the vulnerable and low-income tenants it serves in the properties it manages directly. But court records reviewed by OPB show the property management company that Home Forward contracts with for much of the nonprofit’s housing stock — including Pearl Court — takes a different tack: since April, Income Property Management has filed to evict nearly three times as many households out of properties it oversees for Home Forward compared to Home Forward itself.

“I think about it every day,” the soft-spoken 27-year-old said of his eviction. “It ruined my Thanksgiving, it ruined my Christmas, it ruined my New Year’s.”

Leonardo Cruz looks over eviction paperwork at his home in Portland, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Leonardo Cruz looks over eviction paperwork at his home in Portland, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Cruz landed in Portland five years ago with no money and no home, searching for a fresh start from drug issues and family troubles he had left behind in Southern California. For months, he lived out of a storage unit. Should his attorney fail to reach an agreement with Income Property Management, Cruz plans to move his belongings into storage and live out of his car.

“I’m going to end up losing everything,” he said.

The numbers

Since April, the first full month with an eviction moratorium in place in Multnomah County, Income Property Management has earned the dubious distinction as the region’s top evictor. The company has filed 63 evictions since April - just under half stemming from properties the company manages for Home Forward. The public housing authority manages about 2,400 of its own units and contracts out the rest of the 6,000 units in its portfolio to five property managers: Income Property Management, Quantum Residential, Pinehurst Management, Central City Concern, and Affinity Property Management. Income Property Management has the biggest share of any manager, responsible for just over 1,800 units.

Jeff Reingold, the president of Income Property Management, declined to comment.

Leonardo Cruz's emotional support dog, Aurora, at their home in Portland, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Leonardo Cruz's emotional support dog, Aurora, at their home in Portland, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The fact that IPM has filed for a high number of evictions is not surprising. The Oregon-based company manages a sizable portfolio of commercial and residential buildings throughout the Portland Metro area, many of which are affordable and subsidized properties. As one attorney put it, the same way multinational corporation Nike gets slapped with lots of lawsuits worldwide, IPM will file for lots of evictions in Multnomah County.

What is more surprising is how many of these evictions came out of Home Forward-owned buildings. Despite serving as the property manager for hundreds of fewer units of Home Forward’s housing than Home Forward itself, Income Property Management has filed to evict more people.

Since April, IPM has filed to evict 30 households out of Home Forward-owned properties. Home Forward has filed to evict just 11.

Because there is a moratorium on evictions for missed rent during the pandemic, all of these evictions are “for-cause,” meaning the property manager believed the tenant violated their lease due to something other than nonpayment. Many of the complaints filed by both IPM and Home Forward allege serious infractions: assault, damage of the unit, a stolen bike. A number of complaints filed by IPM list less severe offenses: loud yelling, a strong odor of cigarette smoke, and, in one unit, the repeated burning of sage.

But nothing in the complaints provides a clear answer to the question raised by the sheer quantity of evictions: Why would Income Property Management, which houses roughly the same pool of low-income Portlanders as Home Forward and manages fewer units, evict more people?

The disparity extends back to before the pandemic. OPB reviewed eviction from Home Forward-owned properties filed by both Income Property Management and Home Forward beginning in January of 2019 through January of 2021. During that period, Home Forward had an eviction filing rate of 4%, filing to evict 94 individual households. Income Property Management had an eviction filing rate of 10%. They have filed to evict 174 households.

Evictions in Home Forward Properties (2019-2021)

A spokesperson for Home Forward said department directors had reviewed OPB’s numbers and believed they were accurate.

The bulk of the evictions come from the same handful of properties: there’s Pearl Court where Cruz lives, a five-story complex near Union Station known as The Yards, a building of single room occupancy units downtown called Helen Swindells, another five-story apartment in the Pearl District named Lovejoy Station, and a large housing development in the Portsmouth neighborhood called New Columbia. Collectively, these properties — along with the other complexes the company manages for Home Forward — serve low-income Portlanders earning anywhere from zero to 80% of the area median income (that would be $66,350 for a family of three in the Portland Metro area).

Tenant attorneys and advocates say the most likely answer for the disparity in eviction rates is that Income Property Management, a for-profit property management company, simply does not have the same incentive to avoid evictions as Home Forward, whose stated mission is to keep vulnerable people in their homes.

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“At Home Forward, a lot of the folks there try to keep folks in their housing. They really work with people,” said Jane Moisan, an attorney with People’s Law Project, which specializes in landlord-tenant law. “I have never had a tenant describe IPM as trying to work with them.”

Margot Black, a prominent tenant-rights activist in Portland, had a similar read: Home Forward, she said, is just better at keeping people in their homes.

“Home Forward [staff are] paid a living wage. They’re career property managers, they do resident services, they put up fliers in the hall, they engage the tenants,” she said.

“IPM — it’s just a business to them. ... They don’t have values that are underwriting it,” she continued. “It’s a culture that is not remotely aligned with the goals of affordable housing.”

Home Forward staff say they’ve taken significant steps to improve housing stability. They encourage contacting tenants through phone calls and in-person check-ins rather than through formal notices. They offer specialized support services in their buildings, such as housekeeping for pest control at downtown’s Bud Clark Commons. They’ve banned passing legal fees on to renters who end up in court over housing disputes.

But these approaches are limited to buildings Home Forward manages directly.

On Friday, attorneys for IPM submitted a court filing asking Cruz to pay for the legal fees incurred while trying to evict him. If approved by a judge, he will owe $3,747 in attorney fees — an inconceivably large sum for Cruz who says he is already months behind on rent due to shift cutbacks at Subway.

Black said she believes Home Forward’s decision to contract out much of its portfolio to for-profit property managers is likely a cost-cutting measure that results in some tenants having a better shot at achieving housing stability and avoiding homelessness than other tenants — those like Cruz, who reckons his looming eviction could have been averted with communication from his property manager.

“They just took me straight to court,” he said. “I’m like, You guys could have just asked me. I have copies. Or give me a call.”

‘Comes with a cost’

Ian Davie, the chief operating officer for Home Forward, said he will always recommend the housing authority manage their own properties. He said the nonprofit invests in its staff — a $20 minimum wage, pensions, comprehensive benefits — which he believes leads to “better, healthier outcomes” for both the staff and the people they serve.

But this investment means Home Forward is typically more expensive to hire as a property manager for its own properties than for-profit companies. And there are trade-offs to going that route. For example, Davie said, using Home Forward employees to manage more buildings might mean the nonprofit can provide fewer people with Section 8 vouchers or build less affordable housing.

“When we hire Home Forward at a property, which I will always advocate for, it comes with benefits, but it also comes with a cost,” said Davie. “And that additional cost is a real consideration for us.”

Leonardo Cruz is facing an eviction from his home in Portland, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Leonardo Cruz is facing an eviction from his home in Portland, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Davie acknowledged there may also be a non-financial cost associated with hiring outside managers. He said he was aware that Income Property Management has a higher eviction rate than Home Forward. But he said the issues of evictions, which he called “a failure of the system,” go beyond one property manager, and the group’s focus needs to be on getting all service providers, private market landlords and management companies to stop viewing evictions as a “necessary or expected outcome” to property management.

“I have been concerned that IPM has had a higher [eviction] rate in the past. But I’m more concerned about the broader trends that we see and the broader supports throughout our entire portfolio and throughout the broader affordable housing system,” said Davie. “I think that we get a little tied up around certain properties or certain providers, and we need to be doing a better job of not just sort of spot checking but doing the hard work that changes the system.”

But some attorneys who have gone up against IPM in court say the management company is an egregious enough actor to warrant some singling out and additional scrutiny from the housing authority.

“They’re the worst I’ve seen,” said attorney Michael Fuller with law firm OlsenDaines. “And I’ve filed many dozens of lawsuits against property managers over the last decade.”

Fuller is blunt: he sees the company as quick to evict and eager to turn a profit at the government’s expense. He’s currently representing Brian Jackson, a former tenant of Home Forward’s The Yards complex, in a suit alleging IPM operates the building “as a slumlord,” profiting off public money while doing little to fix the deteriorating conditions that had spurred his client to form a tenants’ union. Discovery from the lawsuit surfaced emails in which the company’s affordable housing director, irked by the organizing and high volume of complaints, called his client Jackson “an asshole.”

Fuller said he ultimately believes the “buck stops with Home Forward.” But so far, he said he hasn’t seen the company willing to step into that oversight role.

“I haven’t seen any instance where Home Forward is checking the work of IPM,” said Fuller. “From what I can tell, it appears that Home Forward is just taking IPM’s word for it.”

When it comes to evictions, the public housing authority appears to grant management companies broad leeway to file evictions for tenants with minimal oversight as to how many people the companies evict each month or the reason for eviction. Home Forward’s Davie said third-party property managers report some eviction information back to Home Forward. There are regular reports about 24-hour notices, which usually involve an extreme incident with a tenant such as an assault. But the COO reckons it’s not enough and said he wants to see a “deeper review of evictions.”

“We need to be better about doing that in a more systematic way, and we need to be better about doing that across the board,” he said.

Some tenant advocates who keep a close eye on the cases moving through the Multnomah County Courthouse, which they refer to as an “eviction mill,” said Home Forward should already have a deep familiarity with the evictions taking place in its properties. Home Forward and IPM use not just the same law firm, but the same attorney: Nicholas Smith, of law firm Greenspoon Marder. Smith has his name on nearly all of the recent eviction notices stemming from Home Forward properties. He did not respond to an inquiry from OPB.

Fuller also sued Home Forward last May, alleging it was negligent in its role as landlord and failed to ensure safe living conditions for tenants. The lawsuit was settled confidentially. His client Jackson, who saw IPM try to evict him three times during his tenancy at The Yards, said the parties had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and can’t talk about the details.

But Jackson, a retired veteran, will say this publicly: he wants IPM out of the affordable housing industry.

“They’re dealing with vulnerable adults, people who can’t fight back either because they don’t know how, they don’t have the resources [or] they don’t have the money,” he said. “They have no business being in the rental business.”

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Tags: Housing, Portland