In the aftermath of Portland's worst snowstorm in a generation, renters-rights group Portland Tenants United is asking Mayor Ted Wheeler for help in winning rent amnesty from landlords for next month.
Citing the snow's effect on lost wages for non-salaried, low-income renters, the tenant's union asked for Wheeler's help in applying pressure to landlords to forgive rent payments for tenants who have lost work during the storm, in an open letter posted to Medium yesterday.
The letter argues the weather emergency allows City Hall to set rent for all tenants in the city at $0 for next month if landlords don't cooperate, using emergency provisions of state law.
"Mayor Wheeler, on January 11th you showed leadership by calling on Portlanders to do their part to help the homeless during this catastrophic storm," the letter says. "We are asking you to call on Landlords to do their part too, and for you to otherwise use the full extent of your power and influence to ensure that no tenant is evicted due to loss of income from the snowstorm."
Wheeler's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The storm's impact on renters may indeed be significant. Businesses throughout the city closed during the storm and are also suffering financial consequences.
"What we're really trying to address is a very realistic situation of people missing week of wages," says PTU organizer Margot Black. "What's it going to look like when the first of the month rolls around?"
But the radical PTU proposal already has significant opposition.
John DiLorenzo, a representative for Equitable Housing PAC, the largest landlord political-action committee in the state, invited tenants to return to negotiations over rental subsidies he proposed last month, saying he views his proposal as a far more realistic option.
"It's too bad that the tenants union refused to talk further about our rental assistance program," he says. "This would be a perfect use…Rental assistance would be much more doable politically than shifting costs around
This dust-up comes in a context of a larger impending legislative fight over the fate of the state's laws on tenant protections and landlord rights.
PTU and other tenants groups around the state are advocating for an end to "no-cause" evictions and a lifting of the ban on preemption. Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, who is championing legislation on the issue, has already called DiLorenzo's proposal a distraction.
Landlords are fiercely opposed to both proposals.