Milwaukians call for fast passage of relocation assistance
Milwaukie renters are optimistic that their efforts to pass a city ordinance for relocation assistance are beginning to gain purchase. Renters, advocates and community leaders have attended three City Council meetings this spring; after last month's meeting, city councilors added relocation assistance in the city's Housing Affordability Strategic Plan.
On June 5, local renters seized on the gained momentum. During open testimony at the City Council meeting, more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the ordinance, calling for its fast passage to prevent further increases in child homelessness, displacement, and the downward spiral that can come when people living on the financial edge face extreme rent increases or no-cause evictions.
DeEtte Waleed, 76, shared that the high cost of housing has made it impossible for her to retire and that a 15 percent rent increase forced her from her Milwaukie rental home. Unfortunately, moving also brought additional hardship.
"We had to borrow money from family in order to pay the moving costs," she said. "We were in a financial crisis. We needed relocation assistance and there was none available."
Denine Etsy of Milwaukie also testified, saying that she spent more than a year living on the streets but is now proud to have a home and her name on a lease, living with her sister and their family dog. But she lives in fear of losing her new home and gained stability. She has a small fixed income, and she said about 90 percent of it goes to pay for housing after a recent rent increase. If her rent increases much higher, and relocation assistance isn't available for Milwaukie renters, she is afraid of what might happen.
"It won't take much rent increase until we are all three homeless, which is upsetting," she said to city councilors. "We are careful with our money and we budget all the time. We are doing our part. We just need a little help."
Katie Ray, the housing liaison for the North Clackamas School District, laid out in stark detail what too many children in Milwaukie are facing every day. She said that no-cause evictions are wreaking havoc on these families, and too many have been forced out to distant communities but still strive to keep their children in Milwaukie schools to give them a sense of stability. She described one family that had been homeless for two years but is going to extraordinary measures to keep their children in school.
"They are getting up at 4:30 in the morning to take a series of public transportation to get their kids to school so they can finish the school year out with us," she said, urging council members to pass relocation assistance. She pointed out what can happen to families without it.
"We also have families who have faced things like a no-cause eviction and haven't had the resources to bounce back, so those little episodes of what might be temporary living turned into years of homelessness," she said.
At last count, there were more than 400 homeless schoolchildren in Milwaukie. Realtor Annie Rose Shapiro of Milwaukie also spoke in favor of relocation assistance, describing how tenants may be reluctant to alert landlords to needed repairs because of the fear it would lead to a no-cause eviction for complaining. That leads to increased expenses for landlords when needed repairs go unattended to.
"It is a myth that all landlords oppose reasonable protections for tenants. In fact, many of the landlords I work with support policies like these both to protect tenants and to protect their investments," she said.
In addition to several other tenants, also speaking at the hearing were representatives from the Community Alliance of Tenants, OPAL Environmental Justice, the Food Pantry at Clackamas Service Center and Clackamas Women's Services.
After the testimony, Mayor Mark Gamba asked the city staff to move forward quickly with the next steps necessary to review a relocation assistance ordinance. Meanwhile, tenants and their advocates plan to continue raising the issue, hoping for swift passage to ease the constant fear of eviction and rent increases that they face.