Council held three public hearings on Monday that were surprisingly quiet; and two robust conversations on Wednesday.
Of the three public hearings, we expected to hear more testimony about only one – code amendments governing the Willamette Greenway. This is work that has been in process over a year during which time the Planning Commission and neighborhood organizations have provided ample opportunities to influence the code changes. I am assuming that is why the hearing was quiet. The City is required to establish “Clear and Objective” standards regulating residential development in this resource area in addition to the already existing discretionary standards in code. The changes include setback requirements for new housing, tree preservation standards, native vegetative buffering along the river, limits on wall location and materials that would impact views, and pedestrian access for multi-unit developments. Council will vote on the revisions on July 12th.
On Wednesday, Council returned to a conversation about the purpose and timeline for a revenue committee that could explore possible mechanisms for filling gaps in program areas of major community concern – homelessness and climate. We are on the cusp of approving the biennial 2023-25 budget on Monday which has required $15 million in reductions, and faces an additional $5 million shortfall because one-time funds were used – particularly to address homelessness – that are no longer available. The manager and finance director proposed a process that is both a step back and a higher-level view of the City’s ongoing needs. We know that in the second year of the 2023-25 budget the city will face an $8.3 million gap for ongoing services. They suggested that rather than narrowly focus on two areas, the Council might want to direct the revenue committee to take a broader look not only at immediate needs – one year from now – but also at longer term sustainable strategies. This conversation will return to council. There was general agreement to pursue this broader scope for the committee, but a need for more information and discussion of the process.
The second item on Wednesday offered a staff presentation of the Phase II code changes to provide more protection to renters. As a reminder of where we are in the process, Council approved Phase I changes last July that initiated a new housing navigator role, required move-in/out documentation, tenant access to rental history, dissemination of information on tenant rights and responsibilities, and imposed a cap on applicant screening. All have been implemented except the cap, which is the subject of a lawsuit.
In Phase II, Council is considering a package of administrative and programmatic changes related to security deposits, processing applications, reporting evictions and violations. The major concern for council and in public testimony is the code change regarding relocation assistance.
The problem council is trying to address is the impact of no-cause evictions on tenants in a tight housing market who are losing housing even though they are up-to-date on rent and have fulfilled the obligations of their lease agreements. The draft ordinance defines the circumstances, amount, and exemptions that could apply to relocation assistance that landlords would be required to pay if they evict a tenant without cause, as well as the creation of a small landlord fund to reduce the impact of this fee on those smaller property owners.
Council will work their way through these specific code changes in a meeting on Monday to either retain the current draft that was the subject of a public hearing, revise one or more of the code changes, or chose not to act at all. I expect they will make revisions in response to public comment, that align to some extent with the recommendations of the Housing Policy Board, with code enacted in Portland, and with state law.
This should be understood as an action of consumer protection. Relocation assistance is intended as a disincentive in order to reduce the frequency of no cause evictions. The motions passed next week will guide revisions for the final draft of the ordinance which will come back to council for a vote.