Stop all rent and mortgage payments for renters and businesses who are suffering due to COVID-19.
That's the gist of a letter put out Wednesday by Portland's city council to state and federal officials.
“We need further action at the state and federal levels to stem the tide of evictions, foreclosures, and bankruptcies that will occur without further intervention,” reads the letter signed by all four members of the Portland City Council.
“Individuals and businesses whose income or expenses have been substantially impacted by COVID-19 need forgiveness of all residential and commercial rent and mortgage payments for the duration of this emergency.”
The letter notes that about half of Portland’s residents are renters — and many are spending a third of their income on rent. Under Multnomah County's eviction moratorium, renters who have lost income due to COVID-19 can delay their rent payments. But they'll still need to pay them all back six months after the COVID state of emergency ends. If they don’t, they could then face eviction.
Meanwhile costs are piling up for homeowners. The council acknowledges that fees, penalties and interest are continuing to accrue for homeowners despite new protections for homeowners with federally backed loans. Without waiving rent and mortgage payments, the letter warns, tens of thousands of Portlanders will be at risk of having their bank accounts drained and potentially losing their homes.
Many business owners find themselves in a similar position, needing to make rent and mortgage payments with dramatically reduced income.
To lessen the struggle of businesses, homeowners and renters, council members signed off with a big ask: “Forgive all rent and mortgage payments for renters and businesses whose income or expenses have been substantially impacted by COVID-19.”
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said the council got the idea Tuesday after the Seattle City Council passed a resolution calling on the state and federal government to place a moratorium on rent and mortgage payments for homes and businesses. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty suggested doing something similar here.
The resolution didn’t come together in time for this week's council meeting, but the letter did. Also Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown issued a new moratorium on commercial evictions and expanded protections for renters.
Eudaly said she was grateful, but felt the council couldn’t “take the pressure off.” The consequences of the status quo, she warned, were dire.
“If people aren't paying rent, then many small time landlords are not going to be able to make their mortgages," she said, "and we're going to see a domino effect of income loss, evictions, foreclosures, bankruptcies.”
The commissioner warned this could lead to “another massive land grab by Wall Street” and a housing crisis that would pale in comparison to the one the city is currently experiencing.
Deborah Imse, the executive director of Multifamily NW, which represents landlords and property managers across the state, said while she had had multiple conversation with the city about relief measures, this had not been one of them. She said she worried that properties would deteriorate under these measures if landlords cannot afford to keep buildings staffed.
"If you can't make payroll, then you can't have folks on site to do the necessary maintenance. You can't have folks on site to handle disputes," she said. "You have some pretty serious consequences at a time when we need to keep people housed."
How exactly the proposed rent and mortgage forgiveness could be carried out remains unclear; no state has made such a move during the pandemic. However, some appear to be considering at least part of what Portland’s elected officials are proposing.
In New York, state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would completely waive rent for both small businesses and residential tenants.