Mayor Calls for More Housing Relief

Unpaid rents grow during COVID-19

Unpaid rents are growing in Portland during the COVID-19 pandemic and Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Tuesday he will bring forward new local housing relief measures to help stabilize households facing eviction and foreclosure.

Wheeler proposed an emergency amendment to the city’s mandatory relocation ordinance so that any rent increases would trigger a requirement for landlords to pay relocation assistance to cover their tenant’s moving cost when facing eviction or foreclosure. Under current code adopted in response to the affordable housing crisis that existed before COVID-19, the relocation help would have only kicked in if the rent increase was 10 percent or more.

“While we are in the midst of a pandemic, we need to protect renters at risk of losing their housing and support renters who may need to relocate due to rent increases,” Wheeler said.

The mayor directed the Portland Housing Bureau to allocate an additional $500,000 of existing funding towards housing stabilization and relief to residents in hard-hit east Portland neighborhoods.

He also announced plans to extend a local eviction moratorium to the end of the year, following Gov. Kate Brown recently issued executive order extending Oregon’s foreclosure moratorium through December, based on the continuing COVID-19-related recession.

While renters have six months to repay any back rent accrued during the Portland moratorium, Wheeler said the impacts of COVID-19 on Portland’s already tight rental market and the growing magnitude of unpaid rent as a result of the pandemic show the magnitude of the current crisis.

The mayor was joined by Home Forward’s Michael Buonocore, the executive director of the Multnomah County Housing Authority, and Portland Community Reinvestment Initiative Inc.’s (PCRI) Executive Director Kymberly Horner to share how continued rent increases and outstanding loan obligations have many Portlanders falling further and further behind on their rent payments and their loan repayments.

The data shows that one in four Portland renters were already paying more than half their monthly income toward rent prior to the pandemic, and since May, between 12% and 15% of Portland renters have been unable to make their monthly rent payments. Among “Class C” properties, which tend to be older buildings and located in Portland neighborhoods farther east, the rate of non-payment during the pandemic has been closer to 20%.

It’s estimated that unpaid monthly rent totals have grown to between $22 - 28 million in Portland and are expected to grow to $120 - $125 million in another 12 months. And with disparities based on income, employment, and housing, the impacts from missing rent have a substantially greater impact on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities who are disproportionately renters and overrepresented in service industry occupations, where they are most vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, officials said.

“Even prior to the pandemic, too many Portlanders were just one medical crisis, or family emergency, or job loss away from homelessness. We need to protect renters and we also need to make sure that local property owners who rent their homes to Portlanders are not foreclosed on because these circumstances make it impossible for them to pay back their loans,” said Mayor Wheeler. “These are temporary measures, but ensuring Portlanders stay in their homes may be the most important and effective action we can take right now.”