Housing Emergency Declaration Not Enough – My Testimony at City Council Hearing

My name is Julia DeGraw and I’m a candidate for Portland City Council. I live in the Montavilla Neighborhood.

For too long the city has operated under the presumption that somehow the needs of the housed and the houseless are somehow different. This has never been the case. Everyone, regardless of their income, race, or ability should not have to worry about whether or not they have a place to sleep at night–a safe home. It’s time we started treating housing as the human right it clearly is. We cannot live without food, water, and shelter. It’s as simple as that.

This is why I am here today to advocate not just for an extension of the housing emergency (which is clearly necessary) and for making the relocation ordinance permanent. But to encourage the city to go further to ensure that housing becomes more affordable and accessible to Portlanders desperately trying to both live and work in this city we all love. But this simple goal is challenging or impossible for an increasing number of Portlanders to achieve at this time.

One policy the city should pursue is a vacancy tax, which would tax landlords who allow hundreds of units in this city to lie vacant in hopes of charging ever higher rents. A vacancy tax would encourage landlords to charge affordable rents and provide housing for more people. Now and in the long-term, we need more housing which is affordable to all Portlanders. Revenues from a vacancy tax would allow the city to spend the money needed to preserve existing affordable housing and take housing stock out of the dog-eat-dog private market and place it into community ownership — which would lead to permanent affordability.

Until a vacancy tax becomes reality — and I believe it is not far off —  there is something simple and moral this city council can do to help thousands of tenants city-wide, right now. You can make the relocation ordinance permanent and make sure it applies to ALL landlords, not just the large ones. A 10% rent increase is unjust, period. The family thrown into homelessness doesn’t suffer more or less just because the landlord owns many units or just one.

This is why I urge you to not only extend the housing emergency, which clearly needs to happen, but that you make the relocation ordinance permanent and ensure that it applies to all landlords.

Photo: Julia advocates for extending the housing emergency declaration during Portland City Council meeting.

October 4, 2017