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Because of COVID-19, the council meets online with any members of the public being present

CITY OF PORTLAND - A screen shot of what viewers saw when they tuned into the City Council hearing on Wednesday money.The Portland City Council approved an eviction moratorium in a remote hearing with no members of the public present on Wednesday.

The moratorium is intended to prevent renters from being evicted if they cannot pay their rent because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, such as being laid off by businesses that have closed.

"We are early in what is shaping up to be a very serious economic situation," Wheeler said.

Only the audio of the March 18 hearing was available on the city's YouTube channel and public access TV. The change — which Wheeler first announced on Monday — is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The sound also broke up at times and Commissioner Amanda Fritz was cut off for awhile.

Most previously-scheduled agenda items were also postponed.

Council hearings are expected to continue like this for the duration of the State of Emergency proclaimed by Wheeler, although he promised they will get better, with video and real-time public responses soon.

It is unclear how the change withh affect hot button agenda items, however. The council had already postponed its March 12 hearing on proposed amendments to the controversial Residential Infill Plan at the last minute. The amendments now are scheduled to be considered on April 9, but the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which is staffing the proposal to increase residential density, is urging people to submit testimony online.

The council also has scheduled two community forums on the city's next budget, set for April 7 and 18. Big issues include the next contract with the Portland Police Association and looming cuts to the Portland Parks & Recreation budget, although Mayor Ted Wheeler has announced the Columbia Pool in North Portland will remain open at least through June 2021.

Wheeler announced plans for the moratorium with Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury on Monday. She announced the County Commission will enact its own moratorium this week.

The terms of the city moratorium will be governed by the terms of the county moratorium, Wheeler said. The county moratorium will also prevent renters who make utility payments to landlords from being evicted if they cannot make those payments, either.

The county moratorium will also include the process for renters to notify their landlords that they cannot pay their rent because of COVID-19 and for landlords to challenge such claims in court.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly described the moratorium as an "emergency stop gap measure." Commissioner Amanda Fritz said the council is hearing from landlords who are worried about making the payments on their properties. Wheeler said he will soon be meeting with representatives of the lending community to try to provide them relief, too.

"Many options are on the table and this is only the first step," Wheeler said.

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