Portland has become unlivable.
With the fastest growing rents in the nation, the city of Portland, Oregon and its surrounding suburbs and inlets has skated into the national consciousness as a bastion of great food, pop music, kitschy coffee shops, and progressive politics. Out of that mix developers have created a brand so potent that they have used it to displace the city’s working class base. Today, landlords wield incredible power, especially over low-income and undocumented tenants looking to raise their families without the impending threat of retaliatory evictions.
It is in this climate that Ernestine has held tightly to her home of six years in Beaverton, a working class area on the outskirts of the city limits. With limited mobility and multiple medical issues, she has barely been able to stay afloat as her landlord refuses repairs that would keep her health and quality of life up to a reasonable standard. When she and her caretaker finally requested these repairs, Ernestine says that she was threatened with eviction from her home, as well as physically intimidated.
The issue in her home, as with many in the area, is mold. Black mold can cause serious health problems for people with asthma, allergies, and immune compromised conditions, and Ernestine is desperate to keep her home livable as the apartment management’s negligence further worsen the condition of the unit. On top of this, she says that the landlord did not make ADA accommodations a priority and instead forced her to go out of pocket for all of the changes. They even denied her request for an ADA accessible parking space, something that is taken for granted in almost all apartment complexes.
As time went on she reports that her landlord went from indifference to hostility. In June, he was arrested when a different tenant reported an assault during a disagreement. Later, that landlord allegedly challenged Ernestine and her husband both to a fight before the police finally arrived and intervened.
Ernestine and her husband finally got an eviction notice, which shows what happens to many when they demand dignity and legally mandated repairs in their buildings.
While this story may seem horrendous, it is not entirely uncommon for residents trying to find an affordable space to call their own in this city. This climate of fear and retaliation against renters is what has helped to foster an unprecedented tenant movement to grow in the city.
A campaign is now being announced to support Ernestine to stay in her home and to receive all of the necessary repairs to keep her unit safe. The Portland Solidarity Network and Portland Tenants United are coming together to jointly announce a demand delivery, which will confront Ernestine’s landlord and show that the power of tenants can be even more profound than the money that landlords use to shield themselves from responsibility.
The Portland Solidarity Network (PDXSol) has been around since 2010, using direct action escalation campaigns to confront incidents of wage-theft and tenant exploitation around the city. Inspired by the fights of the Seattle Solidarity Network, PDXSol has led the SolNet movement as more than 35 organizations have formed in cities around the world.
Portland Tenants United (PTU) came together during the Portland Renters Assemblies, a project that brought Portland renters together with organizers confronting the growing tenant crisis. The group came together as a citywide tenants union, working on projects that have stopped impending evictions, confronted city officials and landlord lobbyists, and have changed the conversation in Portland around rising rents.
The two organizations have come together in large public actions like the Housing for All march, and will be using the power of the community to march on the landlord on Saturday, July 30th. Ernestine and community supporters will march to her apartment complex to deliver a demand letter to her landlord, stating that she expects to stay in her apartment and receive the mandated repairs. If the landlord refuses to accommodate this, then the community will rally together in solidarity to show that they will refuse to stand by while the most vulnerable people are further exploited.
The power to change the situation in Portland and in cities across the country is not in the pockets of the powerful, but in the hearts and spirit of those fighting back. We rent the apartments, work in the buildings, and are the core of the urban landscapes that have become playgrounds for investors. The only thing that will change this situation is a total reversal of the power imbalance, and that can only happen through tenants rising up and using their strength as tenants. What we are seeing in Portland and other heavily gentrified areas like San Francisco and Brooklyn are people refusing to bend to the whims of landlords.
There is power in solidarity, and when the community comes together they can pressure landlords to do what is right.
If you are in Portland, come to 10765 SE Canyon Rd, Beaverton, OR 97005-1822, in the parking lot of Antoni’s Diner. From there the crowd will march to Ernestine’s apartment complex to deliver the demand letter in person.