Justin Buri, who led the charge to protect Portland tenants' rights as housing prices skyrocketed, died Tuesday. He was 36.
He died by suicide Tuesday after a long struggle with depression, his wife, Juliet Maya Buri, 34, a visual and performing artist, says.
As executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, Buri declared a "renters state of emergency" last year, helping push through a round of changes to city and state tenants protections.
CAT demanded a year long rent freeze, and a end to "no-cause" evictions. In response to pressure from tenant groups, the city passed some renter protections: longer, 90-day notice periods for no-cause evictions and sizable rent increases. And pressure continues to mount on state legislature to address rising rents and evictions.
"He launched us into a new era of talking about tenants' rights," says Margot Black, organizer with the renters-rights group Portland Tenants United.
"He was just a warrior. He was just sincere and genuine and so hard-working—and self effacing."
In a message posted to CAT's website, Katrina Holland, the current executive director of CAT, recalled Buri's work.
"He was instrumental in lifting the voices and experiences of the most-impacted tenants to our policy makers at local, regional, state, and national levels," writes Holland.
"He helped champion historic changes in landlord tenant law ranging from making it illegal to discriminate against Housing Choice Voucher recipients, increasing the notice period for tenants living in their homes longer than one year from 30 days to 60 days, advocating for Portland's current Enhanced Inspections program, to leading the charge on declaring Oregon's current #RenterStateofEmergency, the ripple effects and fruits of which we are still seeing today."
Buri grew up in Boulder, Colo. and came to Portland to attend a master's degree program at Portland State University.
He started as a volunteer at Community Alliance of Tenants in 2009, rising to the post of executive director at a time when growing concerns about housing prices and the effects on displacing long-time residents. He left the organization earlier this year.
"He checked me whenever I screwed up, and always checked in when he knew that I was struggling," says Andrew Riley, an organizer with 1000 Friends of Oregon. "He had the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met, and never failed to live his principles."
He is survived by his wife and two sisters, as well as his parents. Buri met his wife when he was traveling in Colombia in 2007. They married at Peninsula Park two years later.
"He had a struggle for many years," Juliet Buri says, recalling that she was immediately drawn to him. "You see people and you know they're good people. He was magical. He was the best. He was such a kind soul."