The City of Portland's Sad Political Process

March 2, 2017
Authors: Jennifer Shuch, Research Analyst
Publishers: HFO Apartment Investor Blog

The new city ordinance requiring Portland landlords to pay relocation costs up to $4,500 to tenants who face no cause evictions or rent hikes above 10% has dominated the headlines. Voices have rung out on both sides – will this protect renters, or only make it harder for the most vulnerable populations to find a place to live? The answer to this question is unclear, due to the hasty way in which this proposal was thrown together and passed.

No matter what side of the debate you fall on, the biggest takeaway from this ordinance is that the City of Portland’s political process is not as transparent or democratic as it should be. Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Eudaly claim that the reason for the hasty passage of this (at the time) partially unwritten ordinance was that they were afraid landlords would rush to evict tenants if they knew it was coming. Despite low vacancy rates, however, most landlords do not find it worth their while to evict tenants for no reason, especially all at once. In fact, economist Randall Pozdena of QuantEcon uses data from Redfin to back up his statement that, “Among other metro areas with recent, large increases in the median rent to median income, Portland’s eviction rate appears to be low-to-average.” Vacancies cost landlords money, and even in a tight market like Portland’s, it takes time to find and approve new tenants. The specter of landlords suddenly evicting all of their tenants at once is not sufficient to justify passing an ordinance without community input or sufficient understanding its potential impacts.

So the question remains, why did Mayor Wheeler, Commissioner Eudaly, and the rest of the City Council choose to forgo debate on an ordinance that was both opaque and half-finished? Eudaly’s statements from the single hearing on the issue highlight her unwillingness to discuss the matter with landlords, who she claims are responsible for the housing crisis due to their opposition to rent control. In fact, the housing crisis is a result of a number of factors, some of which the city could have started addressing upwards of a decade ago. Choosing not to work with landlords on this subject is not any better than choosing not to engage with tenants. In politics, disagreeing with a constituent’s views cannot be a reason to shut them out of the discussion. It is the responsibility of the City Council to come up with solutions that serve the entire city, and that cannot be done without bringing all parties to the table. It is still their prerogative to conclude from these discussions that the landlords are wrong and the relocation ordinance is necessary, and in the process they may also garner good will and respect from the people they serve.

About the author: Jennifer Shuch is a research analyst at HFO Investment Real Estate. She may be reached at (503) 241-5541.