Council looks into concerns about Rental Inspection Program
Gresham City Council is investigating allegations that community members who utilized the city-run Rental Inspection Program may have faced retaliations in the form of rent increases or evictions.
City Council learned about the concerns surrounding the program during a policy development meeting Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 10, where the Gresham Task Force on Housing gave its final report.
"It was created because of retribution, so if it's still happening that needs to be solved immediately," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis.
The task force was formed in July 2018 to provide recommendations on how best to address housing across the community. The 14 members met over an eight month period to create a report that suggests ways to increase the housing supply, implement education programs for renters and landlords, and protect vulnerable residents.
"This (report) is the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people — and can serve as a blueprint for staff moving forward," said Brian Monberg, senior manager of special projects and policy.
It was the Rental Inspection Program that led to the most discussion. During task force gatherings, the group would hear from community members about their housing concerns. Many spoke about inspection retaliations that had occurred to themselves or someone they knew.
Catherine Nicewood, a member of the task force and president of the Rockwood Neighborhood Association, said the problem is that when someone uses the program, it is easy for property managers to see who complained because the inspection singles them out. The task force recommended doing multiple inspections at once to obscure things.
"The safety of tenants is extremely important," said Councilor David Widmark. "We have a responsibility to provide safe, affordable housing."
The task force also suggested a follow up on inspections to ensure renters didn't receive punishments for speaking out.
"We want people to have a safe place to live," Nicewood said.
According to the Housing Task Force, the cost of rent in Gresham compares favorably to other municipalities in the region. Data from the 2017 U.S. Census shows a median gross rent for local apartments to be $1,112 a month, including utilities.
That is about $100 less than Portland and $130 less than the Metro Area.
"A typical rental unit in Gresham is more affordable than any other in the region," Monberg said.
The task force also recommended creating a new staff position to oversee housing, providing educational material in the form of a "Renter's Bill of Rights" to both renters and landlords, and providing better communication about the resources available within the community.
The staff person would serve as a point of contact for the community, assisting those in vulnerable situations and guiding residents through the complicated housing system.
"For renters especially, there are services available, but the problem is they don't know about them," said Michael Davis, task force member. "It is getting tougher and tougher to afford rent and stay in your unit."
Spreading types of housing across the community was another suggestion by the housing group. They looked into support for affordable and "executive-level" apartments, senior housing in places like Rockwood, and more home ownership opportunities.
The City Council voiced optimism that many of the task force's recommendations are achievable goals. Bemis said the city could mandate or strongly encourage landlords to pass out a Tenant Bill of Rights, while Councilor Mario Palmero suggested exploring no-cause evictions.
"I think we should be able to get a lot of these things done before we hit the next council work plan," Bemis said.
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