Tenants' advocate: Housing is a civil right
The leader of a tenants' right organization says housing is as much a civil right as other human rights.
"Everyone should have a home. Everyone should have a right to be stable in their home. Everyone should have a real fighting chance to get off the streets, because housing is a human right and a civil right," Katrina Holland said Thursday night (Oct. 26) at a forum sponsored by the League of Minority Voters.
But Holland, executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, also conceded that Oregon lawmakers are unlikely now to lift a 32-year-old ban on rent control by local governments or ban no-cause evictions by landlords.
The Senate let die without a vote House Bill 2004, which contained both provisions and passed the House by a bare majority in the 2017 session. Two Democrats joined the 13 Republican senators in likely opposition.
"I do not know if our state is ready," Holland told her audience at Lewis & Clark College, where the league conducted its 8th annual state of civil rights forum.
Holland said that until the political makeup changes, advocates will have to pursue smaller steps to help renters, such as what happened in Portland.
A city ordinance requires landlords to help pay substantial relocation costs for tenants they evict without cause or tenants who must move as a result of an annual rent increase of 10 percent or more. A judge rejected a lawsuit filed by two rental property owners against the ordinance.
Still, Holland said she continues to back the principles behind the 2017 state legislation.
"I firmly believe every person has a right to have a place to call home," she said.
"I firmly believe that every person who has a place to call home, whether owning or renting, deserves a chance at real stability without it being undermined at another's whim — or if that stability is going to be taken away, they are provided a reason as to why and given a chance to fix it.
"I firmly believe we should all have some level of predictability in thinking about how our mortgages and rents are going to change from year to year and a reasonable amount of time to prepare for those changes."
Holland said the burdens of rent increases and no-cause evictions have fallen disproportionately on people of color and people who are poor — the same people who, in Multnomah County's point-in-time homeless count released recently, are disproportionately without permanent shelter.
"All the work we are doing here … we are trying to change that direction and those numbers," said Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County chairwoman and one of six awards recipients from the league.
"No one should be sleeping outside, no one should be sleeping in a tent, especially people of color. It's a horrific comment on our community. The work we've been doing and we will be doing in the future is going to be extremely important."
Although other issues were touched on, housing was Topic A at the forum.
Another award recipient was state Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, who began her public service with the Portland Model Cities Program in the 1960s. From there, she was recruited in 1969 to be a supervisor in the Office of Economic Opportunity under Gov. Tom McCall, and also worked for Gov. Vic Atiyeh a decade later.
"Our work is not complete," Winters said. "In fact, there is more work than when we started Model Cities."
Other recipients of the 2017 Civil Rights Champions Awards, in addition to Kafoury and Winters, are Jo Ann Hardesty, president of the Portland NAACP; Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman; Alando Simpson, vice president, City of Roses Disposal and Recycling, also the first minority-group member on the Oregon Transportation Commission, and Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. Hardesty and Saltzman were absent.