Compromise In The Works On Relocation Aid For Poorest Portland Renters

Apartments for rent are shown in Portland, Oregon.

Portland’s city council will vote Wednesday on expanding a policy that requires landlords to pay tenants after certain evictions or rent increases. But the council is still debating whether the rule should apply to housing nonprofits.

Here’s the issue: Portland has thousands of units of regulated affordable housing, in which the rent and utility costs a tenant pays are fixed as a percentage of their income, generally 30 percent.

“As people’s income rises, they can graduate up to afford market-rate housing, making the unit available for the next extremely low income household,” says Martha McLennan, executive director of the nonprofit Northwest Housing Alternatives.

The broad definition of “rent” in the council’s original relocation ordinance left housing nonprofits concerned that their sliding rent scales might trigger Portland’s hefty relocation payments.

The original ordinance exempted all units regulated as affordable housing by federal, state or local authorities for at least 60 years.

That prompted tenants’ rights groups to worry that people in affordable housing wouldn’t be adequately protected from an actual rent increase. After listening to their testimony, Commissioner Dan Saltzman introduced an amendment striking the exemption for affordable housing providers.

Housing nonprofits are now working with the Portland Housing Bureau on a compromise. They’re trying to clarify the limited situations in which tenants in affordable housing would be eligible for relocation aid.

“There may be nuanced, rare scenarios that should trigger relocation assistance for tenants of rent-regulated affordable housing where residents are paying the full rent amount,” said Tim Collier, spokesman for the nonprofit Home Forward, the largest affordable housing provider in the state.

Portland’s city council faces an April deadline to pass its expanded renter relocation aid policy. The original relocation bill, approved last year, expires that month.

Leaders at the Housing Bureau say they expect the council to vote on the bill as planned, and then direct the bureau to work on developing a more narrow set of exemptions for affordable housing providers.

“The important thing is that we move this policy forward and move it to some permanent status,” said Shannon Callahan, interim director of the Portland Housing Bureau.

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