Mayor Wheeler: Demand that Landlords Forgive* February Rent

Portland Tenants United
4 min readJan 17, 2017
A tenant’s car is still trapped in the snow a full week after the snowstorm.

[*Update: The purpose of this letter and demand is to prevent evictions and further financial instability due to the snow storm. Whether landlords forgive just a portion of the rent, or the whole thing, is not our concern. If a tenant who cannot pay rent due to missed work from the storm is able to keep their housing, then our work here is done. We understand that this may cause a financial strain on landlords. That is also not our concern. They are certainly better equipped to absorb the loss than their tenants, and certainly will not face the real prospect of losing their housing by mid-February. We encourage low-income landlords to seek financial relief from the well funded (with our rent money) Equitable Housing PAC.]

Dear Mayor Wheeler,

Portland’s unprecedented weather, a declared state of emergency, has disrupted every facet of economic life. Small businesses are suffering, while both employees and shoppers are marooned at home. And for parents who are still expected to be at work, they must either forgo their wages to stay home with their children on this 9th day of school closure this year, or find and pay for childcare on short notice. For renters, who comprise almost 50% of Portland’s population and certainly the vast majority of Portland’s low wage workforce (median income for renters is around 30K), missed workdays and unplanned child care expenses put them in a dire situation.

These workers are less likely to have paid time off or paid snow days so these missed days, the 5th this month (not including snowed-out weekend workdays) means lost wages, a significant reduction in a tight income where every dollar is already budgeted for. These hours cannot be made up. These wages are lost. If they cannot pay February’s rent in full by the 4th of the month, they face late charges in excess of $100, another financial blow. And if payment in full isn’t made by the 11th, their landlord can file for eviction on the 12th, so now they are on the hook for all the court and legal fees as well as well as facing the very real prospect of losing their housing. Eviction in Oregon is the fastest civil legal proceeding behind a restraining order. The judge does not have the authority to grant these tenants leniency; there is no “good reason” not to pay your rent in the eyes of the law. Renters are somehow expected to have emergency savings for times like these, despite rising rents taking an ever bigger bite out of meager paychecks, and the expenses of unplanned moves (due to rent increases and no-cause evictions) leaving credit cards maxed. With the weight of Portland’s housing crisis depressing workers’ real wages at an ever accelerating rate, the snow days came with a heavy dose of anxiety.

Mayor Wheeler, on January 11th you showed leadership by calling on Portlanders to do their part to help the homeless during this catastrophic storm. We are asking you to call on Landlords to do their part too, and for you to otherwise use the full extent of your power and influence to ensure that no tenant is evicted due to loss of income from the snowstorm.

Last week’s snow was a perfect storm — a confluence of the heaviest snow in decades, an inept city response to impassable roads, a lack of workers’ rights (not being paid for work or school closures), and the ever-present hunger of the landlords — celebrating record profits from our housing crisis and probably already planning how to spend their late-fee bounty. Renters have lost significant income, and many are at real risk of not making rent. It’s hard to see how anyone could argue that this isn’t a disaster; a train literally came off its rails!

Will Portland, a city whose inadequate preparation for emergencies made roads unsafe for days after the snow topped falling, allow a new avalanche of weather-caused evictions? Pushing yet more people into homelessness, into deeper financial insecurity, into freezing conditions? Will we experience more loss of life in the next winter storm because someone lost their housing after this one? Can we do better at preventing predictable disasters (a wave of preventable evictions) rather than reacting to the damage like we had no idea it was coming?

This storm extracted a massive amount of wealth from Portland’s workers. No one should face an eviction because of freak storms combined with a profound housing crisis. Working families lost wages and are unable to make their full rent, landlords should absorb these losses — not tenants.

Renters do not want to call 211, only to deal with endless referrals to agencies requiring endless paperwork for short term rental assistance, only be to be told that there is none. As is always the case even adequate when there isn’t a weather crisis. We do not simply want extensions on paying rent because we have no way of recovering our lost wages. We need amnesty.

Mayor Wheeler, you and your fellow commissioners must call on Portland landlords to do their part by forgiving rent and late fees for tenants affected by the snow — without exception. Moreover, we urge you to do your part by adding teeth to this demand with a message to landlords that if they aren’t willing to show mercy to their tenants, then you will do what you can to get tenants the relief they need, including using your statutory power to enact emergency rent control in times of disaster. (We suggest that in doing this, you set the rent to $0 for February.)

If you are serious about protecting workers and tenants in this city, and committed to taking our housing crisis seriously, there is no better time to take emergency preventative action than now.

Signed,
Snowed in Tenants of Portland

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Portland Tenants United

Portland Tenants United is a growing tenants union dedicated to organizing tenants to take action to strengthen and enforce tenants rights and protections.