Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Is Pushing for “Significant Changes” to a Plan to Regulate Tenant Screenings

An effort to combat discrimination in screening tenants awaits a City Council vote.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (Cheyenne Thorpe / Multnomah County)

City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly's office is championing new tenant-friendly policies designed to prevent discrimination and increase renters' access to housing.

The proposed ordinance would regulate the way that landlords screen tenants for a home—including giving more consideration to tenants with criminal backgrounds. That's raised the hackles of landlords, who have lobbied against the new requirements.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as commissioner of the Portland Housing Bureau, wants the ordinance changed.

"As the policy stands in its current form, I believe there are significant changes necessary," Wheeler said in a statement. He praises Eudaly's efforts to tackle housing discrimination but adds a note of caution: "As a city, we should be seeking policies that address those issues, but right now the question is whether this proposal is the right way to go about it."

In answer to a follow-up question from WW, the mayor's office listed a series of concerns:

"Our primary concerns are those raised in public testimony," says Wheeler's spokeswoman Eileen Park, "including the rent to income ratios, the look-back period on criminal activity, potential support for small landlords and their ability to apply certain requirements, and also the impact on how we can continue to encourage housing development in our entire city—including how the available financial tools for development will respond to the proposed changes."

The ordinance requires landlords to offer an individualized assessment of tenants to reject them or, alternatively, requires that no tenant can be denied for criminal offenses that involve a misdemeanor older than three years, or a felony older than seven years. And the ordinance would allow landlords to require income of only two times the rent.

Last week's hearing over screening criteria grew contentious when the mayor scolded his colleagues for lack of civility toward an expert witness. He was later accused of applying a racist double standard in whom he criticized.

Related: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Criticized for a Racist Double Standard in Scolding City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

It's not clear that the mayor's vote will be required for passage—he has found himself outnumbered on at least two key votes at City Council since January. And the mayor's office wouldn't say if Wheeler would vote against the ordinance if it is not amended.

Eudaly says she is optimistic the mayor will support the ordinance.

"I met with the Mayor today and had a productive conversation with him about our FAIR policy package," says Eudaly. "I know that he understands the severe impact that housing discrimination has on our community, and believe he supports the overall goals of our policies. I remain hopeful that we can come to an agreement."

Other commissioners have yet to weigh in publicly.

"Commissioner Fish is having conversations with his colleagues, key stakeholders, and the City Attorney's office. I expect he'll have more to say soon," says Fish spokeswoman Sonia Schmanski.

Another hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for later this month.

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