Tuesday, April 26, 2016


I've been feeling something deeply lately, and there are things that need to be said.  I have watched situations change so swiftly here, and while some people think these changes are positive, many are taking a huge toll on our citizens.  As some of you may know, the city of Portland declared a state of emergency regarding housing, about 7 months ago. In that time, things have not been working in a sustainable way to support tenants. There have been small band-aids here and there, such as new laws passing at the state level, but not enough to deal with the dichotomy of growth and displacement, which is still spiraling out of control. These small fixes are not well thought out, at all.  They feel like lip service to me, and a way to placate people who don't really understand the full brunt of what more and more have called the housing crisis; a man-made disaster. I happen to agree with the disaster terminology.  This is really difficult to even argue about, because people do not understand it, but have opinions about it.  That's fine, but I think we all need to do more listening.

In my own life, I have watched my kids lose friends to this.  They are fully aware something is amiss, and are actively talking about it, as well. At ages 9 and 13.

As a friend and parent, It is very disheartening to see families I have known since 2008 have to leave our community abruptly, because of no-cause evictions, and rent increases that are not within their grasp. It is equally disheartening to watch communities be dismantled hastily, because the market will suddenly bear something our existing citizens can't support. In fact, just yesterday, a friend reported a $700 rent hike. $700 additional dollars. Per month.

This year, I was faced with a decision. Things have gotten tight for me, too. The commute has become increasingly more and more frustrating.  We can't afford to do some of the things we want to do.  Also frustrating at times.  I could have tried something different with my own properties. I chose to stay put, because I did not want to displace my tenant in this ridiculous time.

I realized something.  We can afford to stay here.  I can deal with the commute.  But things need to turn around. They really do.  As it stands right now, and as we have kept things, he would not be able to find something else at the rate we have been charging him, or even anything close.  In the mean time, I won't be that guy. I am sure there are other landlords who feel the same way, or at least I hope there are.  The landlord/tenant relationship and agreement should be a partnership. Tenants should be listened to, and concerns should be addressed. It is very hard on people when all of the power lies in the hands of the landlord, and they have no choice but to pay hundreds of dollars more per month, or leave.   And if it's not that, there isn't much choice other than to put up with substandard housing, which may not even be fit to live in, due to any number of problems, and/or safety hazards.  In that case, you say nothing, or face eviction, and are possibly added to a list of difficult tenants; making it that much harder to find a new place.

Why are the prices going up so much?  I can't tell.  There are probably a few different reasons for this.

Our property taxes went up a bit this past year, and we did raise the rent in a way that reflected that.  The amount?  $50.  I think in some cases it probably has to do with Air BnB.  The recent number for new Air Bnb listings in Portland was around 1300. I know people who think this is great. The market is booming, and apparently, if you can't rent residentially, you can just list on Air BnB, and make a killing. This is how some of the new apartment complexes are doing things, when they can't rent out one of their units.  But existing landlords are, too.  This is something that really needs a second, third, fourth, and fiftieth look. We need to enforce regulations on Air BnB.  (There are already some, but they have not been enforced.)  Too many people are being displaced over this. If you are considering making money this way, and already have tenants, please think about whom gets displaced. We are not a hotel city. We have citizens who need stability and to know they won't be out on their ear tomorrow, because suddenly the market will bear whatever we want. The bottom line should be maintaining community for our current citizens, not making as much money as humanly possible.

But for the time being, and for many, leaving Portland, or ending up on the street, is basically it. In my case, I refused to make one more person struggle. Not one more.

Obviously, our sense of community is precarious at this time. That is upsetting to many. And rightly so. It is extremely painful to lose your community. And when you think about it, community should be about stability. It should support children being able to stay in their schools, with their friends. It should represent a sense of belonging and commitment. If we have the ability, we should be helping each other, taking care of our own, and giving a hand up when we can. Instead? I keep seeing a whole lot of greed, and advantage taking of the current market.  It is what it is, and the market is reflecting success for some, but for people who are just trying to get by?  Survival mode.  They are kind of being left to twist in the wind. Some are dying on the streets, or committing suicide, because their options are pretty nil.

Some have resorted to gofundme accounts. I am happy to see a few who are able to obtain what they need in this manner, but at the rate things are going, it will be impossible to help everyone placed in this situation, because even that can only go so far.  And how ridiculous is it that this is even necessary?

Well?  It is. It is both ridiculous, and necessary.

All things considered, and as logic would follow; this isn't just a financial issue. This is a public health issue, because this level of stress absolutely takes its toll on a person's mental and physical health.  When your entire world gets upended? Your body may, too.  And I'm not even talking about the chronically ill here, but clearly, they are also affected.

It's time to really think about the people being displaced. Around town, I have noticed more and more homeless encampments starting up. Sadly, I have also seen a lot of sweeps where these people lose everything. But I digress here, because I'd prefer to see people not reach that point in the first place. I have heard the numbers of school children who have been displaced. Students in our school system, having to leave their homes with everything still in them. Students living in tents.  These people may also be elderly or chronically ill, and living on a fixed income that can't support higher rents. A 90 day no cause eviction may seem more reasonable than 20 days, which is what was happening before this, but in some cases, that is still not enough time. The process for finding something else that is affordable is difficult, because there just aren't that many property owners supporting this idea. Wait lists can be very long. They are, in most cases, certainly longer than 90 days. And I'm sorry, but when you live paycheck to paycheck, you LIVE paycheck to paycheck.

So, Where do these people go, when everything is climbing the way it has been in the past 2 years? How do you plan to move to a completely different city when you have 90 days notice, are barely making it, and need to figure out how to find a new job as well as a new home in that amount of time? How do you travel to that new city to attend interviews, when your boss may not give you any time off to do that? Unless you have lived paycheck to paycheck and worked for someone who doesn't give you much space, you need to understand this reality. And it is absolutely reality for some. Also, the cities that may have more affordable housing may not necessarily also have readily available jobs for those who are suddenly displaced here. Or worse, what if these people are not able to work because of a chronic illness, or disability?  It is just not always that easy. But, well?  I guess, if we want to lose our service industry workers, this may be the way to go.  Brilliant.

And even with all of this aside, we are losing our culture, and diversity. Our artists, which made this city popular, are leaving, or being spread far apart. Guess what? Artists put us on the map.  Artists don't make that much money.  Shocker, I know.  But they, too, are being priced out.  I know several who have had to leave.  Again, I have to speak to community here. Artists thrive on community. Without them, we are all in survival mode. It really does not have to be this way, but without our communities and sense of belonging, we are lost.

Who is responsible for this? Well, to a great extent, city planners. Who else? Investors. Who else? Developers. I have had people who work for developers knocking on my door. I have no intent to sell my property, and have not demonstrated any desire or inclination to do so. This feels like harrassment, and bullying. It's like they want us all out.  I have received many letters from developers wanting to purchase my properties, as well.

I have burned them all.

Why? Because they will never get my money, or my property. I have watched a certain developer bilk a community out of an obscene amount of money to preserve old growth trees. In Eastmoreland, Matt Stone have had to step in to help. Other types of subterfuge, like developers posing as families to purchase properties, are happening in communities that have great value to our residents; even Peacock Lane. I'm sorry, but Peacock Lane is only a couple of blocks. Why was this necessary? And how is this even legal? I have also seen unsafe practices, like the wall of an old church being felled, that wasn't properly measured, landing on the power lines. In that case, people were extremely lucky no one was hurt. These demolitions are pretty unregulated.  They don't really do much beyond using a garden hose to knock the dust down.  These houses are old.  They definitely have asbestos in them. This is going on in our residential neighbourhoods, where people are walking around outside. They happen while kids are walking to school, right past the sites.  In some cases, they happen in populated shopping districts, during active times of day.  From what I have seen while passing these sites, very little is taken into account.

The only way a developer is going to get anything from me is if it's from my cold, dead hands.

I have heard people argue that this is how cities grow. I have heard people argue that this is how we create density when demand is high. But if you look at a lot of these old structures, many are already split into plexes. They are already dense. There is already density with yards, even!  Imagine, or pay attention now, because at the rate things are going, there aren't even going to be yards in our residential areas.  These new structures usually take up most of the lots, and encroach a bit on the neighbouring properties, privacy-wise.  And some homes that had been split into apartments have been torn down to place million dollar single family homes onto.

So the density argument? Pretty leaky. Sorry, but it is.

I have lived in other cities. This is not a slow creep we are seeing. This is an unsustainable trajectory; like something shot out of a cannon. Or like a coup d'etat. Or Munich.  Seriously.  How much are we going to let them take? At any rate, I have never seen a ramp up like this one, in my life. I have never seen a city ripped up in every single quadrant. But believe me when I tell you I see it now, because as life would have it, I am required to be in many places all over town daily, and am affected by the amount of construction and dismantling that has gone on for the last 2 years. We have got to stop denying what is happening, and passing it off as normal growth, because it's not normal. It is killing people, and changing what once felt like home into a place that I don't even recognize. In less than 2 years time.

But what about the cities which have grown steadily for a good century? I hear people argue this point, too.  Regularly.  They cite examples like New York City.  Guess what?  NYC has had rent control in place, to avoid the sort of push-out we are currently seeing.  San Francisco is fighting to keep their rent control, and losing in some cases.

I can't speak to the present circumstances of any city at the moment, because this really seems to be happening everywhere, but it has been noted in the media that Portland has seen the worst increases in the nation, in the shortest amount of time. We are not delusional. We are witnessing, (and in many cases) experiencing some real problems that need to be taken seriously. There are people who do have the power to do something, if they pay attention at all to what it's doing to our residents. We could set an example if we had the inclination.

It is time to recognize what is happening here, and call it what it is. It is a man made disaster, and we can at least, enact rent control to deal with part of the problem.  It won't solve all of it, but this is still working in other cities, and it can work here.