Chair Kafoury throws support behind protecting tenants

February 2, 2017

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury is set to testify before the Portland City Council this afternoon, throwing her support behind a new policy that would require landlords to pay moving expenses for tenants who receive no-cause evictions or rent increases larger than 10 percent a year.

City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, with support from Mayor Ted Wheeler, announced the plan last week. As part of her remarks supporting the plan, Chair Kafoury calls out the county’s response to news about an apartment complex in Northeast Portland where tenants received 100 percent rent increases. The building is home to 26 kids -- more than 5 percent of the student body at their neighborhood elementary school.

The county will provide $48,000 in rent assistance to help those families stay in their homes through the school year. That announcement came the same day the chair and Mayor Wheeler wrote an open letter urging landlords to work with tenants who might be struggling to make rent in February after losing work because of last month’s snow storm.

Read Chair Kafoury's testimony below.


Thank you for having me here today, and thank you to Commissioner Eudaly and Mayor Wheeler for your leadership on this issue.

I am Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and I think today is the start of an important conversation. I know a lot of people want to talk today, so I’ll keep my remarks brief.

A little over a week ago, I read the story about the families living at the Normandy Apartments in Willamette Week.

Twenty-six children live in the building’s 18 units -- more than five percent of the students body at the neighborhood elementary school. And the building’s new owners had just sent every tenant notice of a rent increase.

A 100 percent rent increase.

For parents who couldn’t afford that, they’d have to move their kids to a different school -- maybe a different school district -- at a key point of the school year.As a parent, and as someone who has worked with families who have lost housing, I know what that disruption does to kids. It knocks them back. Sets them up for failure. Across the county, we’re seeing families in this crisis, as they pack up and move, from school to school,  district to district chasing an affordable apartment.

So I asked county staff to see what we could do.

So far, we’ve been able to find $48,000 in rent assistance through our SUN School network to help keep the families with kids in the Normandy Apartments until the end of this school year.

We’re still looking for a solution for the other tenants. And time may run out.

I’m not telling you this story today because it represents success. We may not find the resources to help the other tenants. We don’t have enough money to help every tenant in crisis.

And that is a weight I carry with me every day.

I’m sure you will hear from many people today talking about a need for more housing as the long-term answer to the crisis. And I agree. We need more housing at every level. Particularly, we need more units affordable to those with very low incomes -- roughly 30 percent of the area median.

And I know that our mayor is dedicated to making that a reality.

But we have to recognize that for families that are living on the edge, they can’t wait. Every day there are moms in our county that are going to work for the minimum wage. At the end of the month they’ve got $1,560 in their pocket, minus taxes. And every day they live in fear that the mail will include a rent increase they can’t pay or a no-cause eviction.

That’s why we dedicated $30 million in new city and county resources to homeless services and prevention last year. With our new investments, we kept thousands of people in their homes and put more than 4,000 in housing. That’s why I hope you’ll help me keep that funding in place and ensure that we keep increasing the number of people we help.

But the story of the Normandy Apartments shows that government can only do so much. And it shows that we, as a community, are failing too many of our neighbors.

Yesterday the mayor and I sent an open letter calling on landlords to work with tenants who might be a little short on the rent this month because of the ice and snow shutting businesses down and cutting work hours.

Our hope is with a little bit of flexibility, those folks won’t have to access our services at all.

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It’s become painfully clear how a few dollars can make all the difference. Karen Batts died of exposure after being evicted and slipping through the cracks of our mental health system. She owed $338. Her story is complex and will instruct how we improve the way we serve people today and in the future.

But let’s all be clear: no one should be forced onto the streets because they’re a few dollars short. We can find a better way.
One way is for local property tax and business income tax to pay to relocate those who have been priced out or kicked out. That’s what we’re doing today. And we’ll keep doing it.

But we can’t expect taxpayers alone to fill this gap. They can’t afford it. I hear from seniors who call my office and say they’re struggling to pay their property tax bills -- even as they support the work the county does -- it breaks my heart.

These are people who built our city and at the moment that we should be honoring them, they are struggling.

We are in this mess today because the federal government walked away from our seniors, our working mothers and our children 30 years ago and defunded Housing and Urban Development. So instead of building the thousands of affordable homes we needed during those years, we’re 25,000 units short.

And now, if you can believe anything you hear out of the White House, it sounds like they’re dead set on playing the same game again, walking away from our community at a key moment in our history.

So it’s up to us. Everyone one of us in this room today.

We all need to come together. We all need to step up. And every one of us needs to do our part.

I think that’s what this ordinance is all about. It’s about saying to landlords who are doing the right thing -- thank you. And it’s about putting in place some safeguards when things go wrong.

I know the city council is committed to making this work. And if you adopt this ordinance today it doesn’t mean that you won’t work with our community to make sure that rules on the books work for everyone.

And I also know that you have some amendments today that have come from your discussions with community members.

But we need to start this conversation today and I hope you all vote aye.

Thank you. And thank you, Commissioner Eudaly, for bringing this forward and seeing it through.