The Portland Business Alliance Files Ballot Title Challenge on Proposed Multnomah County Capital Gains Tax

The tax would fund lawyers for tenants facing evictions.

lights The Winter Lights Festival in Pioneer Courthouse Square. (Sam Gehrke)

The Portland Business Alliance today filed a challenge to the ballot title and explanatory statement for a proposed Multnomah County ballot measure that would impose a new capital gains tax on county residents to pay for lawyers for people facing eviction.

The “Eviction Representation for All” initiative, filed with the county March 3 by a coalition of tenants’ rights and social justice non-profits, is aimed at the November ballot.

The initiative proposes to levy a tax of .75% on capital gains—which, generally speaking, are profits investors earn on the sale of assets such as stocks, bonds or real estate—to fund a new program at Multnomah County that would contract with five law firms or nonprofits to provide free legal representation for tenants facing eviction. Proponents hope to raise $12 million to $15 million a year.

“We see this protection as crucial to keeping people housed,” says Donovan Scribes, a spokesman for the Community Alliance of Tenants, which supports to proposed tax. “Tenants are under the impression that by the time they receive a court summons, an eviction is inevitable, even when this is not the case.”

As WW recently reported, backers of the proposed initiative, including the Democratic Socialists of America, hope to replicate programs that they say have reduced evictions in New York, San Francisco and Cleveland. In 2020, the DSA successfully gathered signatures for what became Multnomah County’s Preschool for All measure.

If the eviction defense measure passes in Multnomah County, Scribes says, backers hope to roll it out statewide.

Today, however, PBA filed a challenge in Multnomah County Circuit Court to the ballot title that the Multnomah County attorney’s office prepared on March 17, saying “all portions of the ballot title are insufficient and unfair.”

PBA listed a number of concerns in its filing, saying the title and description of the measure “do not “adequately disclose to voters that representation applies as broadly as counterclaims, appeals, collection actions, appeals to maintain assistance under federal Section 8 rent assistance, administrative hearings with the Portland Public Housing Authority, post-foreclosure matters, removal of illegal trespassers and squatters, and more.”

Another concern for the PBA: As drafted, the measure does not define “capital gains” and the .75 rate could increase at any time. “Tax rate may be increased or decreased based on annual reports,” the explanatory statement says.

“Portland now has one of the least affordable and highest local tax burdens in the nation, while failing to provide even basic services reliably,” PBA lobbyist Jon Isaacs said in a statement. “Portland is becoming so expensive that—for the first time—Multnomah County lost population and Clark County is growing faster than Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties combined. The only thing this measure would do is make housing and taxes even more expensive than they already are for all Portlanders.”

Campaign representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bar for qualifying an initiative for the ballot is 6% of the number of county voters who cast ballots in the last election for governor. That comes out to 22,686 valid signatures.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.