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June 2nd, 2004 Dan Cook | News Stories
 

Tenants from Heaven

Sixty vulnerable renters in Northwest could be looking for new homes.

     
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Rodney Huschka has strategically packed his 100-year-old building with troubled single people whose rent is paid by someone else.
IMAGE: MATT WONG
Portland landlord Rodney Huschka expects there will be a special place in heaven for him because of the compassion he's showing to his tenants here on earth in Portland.

Such delusional thinking is about the only thing he has in common with any of his tenants at Westport Villa.

The turn-of-the-century, three-story building at 2241 NW Hoyt St. looks like it belongs on a Hollywood back lot. The front porch sags with age and use. Inside walls are patched. Carpets are filthy, and the air smells of smoke, beer and sweat.

City housing inspectors recently identified more than 150 housing-code violations during an inspection of Westport Villa, ranging from cockroach infestation to plugged toilets.

Huschka, 45, grew up in a family that owned downtown hotels, and he's picked up one of the best tricks of the trade. While most owners of low-income housing constantly struggle to collect rent, Huschka says, "no one here ever misses a payment."

Most of his 60 tenants, he explains, receive $500 a month in Social Security benefits because they have been classified as either severely disabled or emotionally disturbed. Huschka automatically receives $325 to $400 of their monthly checks.

Packing his rooms with the disabled and the emotionally disturbed presents challenges. The police are there constantly, responding to complaints about noise, public intoxication, prostitution and drug trafficking.

Huschka blames the problems on "non-residents" who drop by uninvited to visit his tenants, as well as his neighbors, who complain about his building. But, he admits, he's not motivated to spend much money on upkeep, "especially with the clientele I have.

"They don't know any better, so they kick holes in the wall, wreck the carpet, soil the walls," he says. "Why would I put a ton of money into a 100-year-old place?"

Or, for that matter, into the taxman's pocket. At last count, Huschka owed $47,879.25 in back taxes to Multnomah County and $18,255.46 in fines for code violations assessed by the city's Bureau of Development Services.

Huschka, whose own Northwest Portland home is worth $562,560, says the Westport Villa isn't a profitable venture. He says he'll pay off the taxes and fines when he sells the building, which could be as soon as this summer.

"It's been a labor of love, but it hasn't made me any money yet," he says. Huschka figures he'd make a nice profit, given Westport's location in trendy Northwest Portland. He says he bought Westport from his parents in 1997 for $425,000. The county estimates the property is worth more than $1 million.

If Huschka were to sell, it would create even more headaches at City Hall, where Commissioner Erik Sten recently vowed to help find suitable housing for folks like those now living in Westport Villa and some of the city's worst motels (see "Room Service," WW, April 21, 2004).

"They're going to need help finding new homes," says Sten aide Marshall Runkel, who toured the building with WW. "They can't fend for themselves."

Huschka says he'll do what he can. "I won't see any of them go out of here to live on the streets when this place closes," he says. "Maybe most people don't care about them, but I still do."

 
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