What's the Deal with Portland's Rising Rents?

No issue is of greater concern to Portlanders right now than rising rents.

No issue is of greater concern to Portlanders right now than rising rents.

Because it's true. Rents are climbing—even in parts of Portland where apartments traditionally could be had for reasonable sums.

Related: Oh God, The Median Rent on a Portland Apartment Just Hit $1,400

Last September, the Portland Housing Bureau put together numbers showing the cost of rent had risen faster in East Portland than elsewhere in the city the previous year.

Related: Portland's Rent Spike Spreads East, Pressuring Low-Income Residents

The figures, part of a sweeping housing study, showed rents had climbed 8.4 percent across the city—with the average monthly rent rising by about $100—and rents just keep going up.

A two-bedroom apartment along outer Southeast Division Street, on average, saw a much sharper increase —10.1 percent, or $81 a month—than those along inner Division and Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, which rose 4.4 percent, or $51 a month. The biggest rent hikes in the city included 16.9 percent in Parkrose, 14 percent in Lents, and 14.8 percent in Montavilla—neighborhoods along I-205.

Those hikes are part of a 34 percent increase citywide in the cost of a two-bedroom apartment between 2010 and 2015, according to the Housing Bureau.

Buildings that were once affordable are being snatched up by new owners, who want to raise rents to recoup their investments.

East Portland is seeing those changes. At Douglas Square, just east of Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division, a new owner raised rents by 10 percent after charging new utility fees.

The Douglas Square price hikes sparked accusations that the city should have acted to preserve the affordable housing.

"Unfortunately, there's a history of the city acting too late on gentrification," says Nick Sauvie, director of Rose Community Development.

Whatever the reason, rising rents are pushing people out of town or onto the streets.

Add this to the fact that in Portland, unlike in many other cities, landlords can evict renters without giving a reason—they just have to provide proper notice—and you have a recipe for fear.

Related: What It's Like to Be Evicted, And Not Know Why

The issue of "no cause" evictions has become a central one for advocates.

"We see it as hugely destabilizing," says the Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons, director of the nonprofit Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. "It allows unrelenting market forces to drive how our neighborhoods look and feel."

Rising rents and affordable housing became a central issue of this year's mayoral race.

Related: Portland Rents Went Up Again. What City Could You Move to That's Getting Cheaper?

Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler championed the issue of no-cause evictions and has promised to restrict the practice once he takes office in January.

The city attorney has offered the opinion that the city can't restrict no-cause evictions without changes to state law, but Wheeler promises to press ahead regardless.

"I made the just-cause eviction process the centerpiece of my tenant bill of rights because I do believe we have the legal authority to implement it," Wheeler says, though he expects a legal challenge. "Admittedly, it will probably have to be clarified in the courts; that's the way it works in America."

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