PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Amid steep rent hikes hitting tenants in a North Portland affordable housing apartment building, increasing rent by nearly 50% in some cases, KOIN 6 News found out hundreds of other affordable housing units are also susceptible to these increases.
Portland Housing Bureau officials confirmed there are 49 buildings participating in the city’s MULTE affordable housing program, which gives landlords a property tax break for offering some rooms at affordable rates for 10 years. But the expiration dates for hundreds of units are a few years away.
For example, 14 buildings in the affordable housing program will expire in the next five years – meaning 830 affordable units will soon vanish. While the majority of the other buildings’ affordable rates will expire within the next decade.
Shela Cecchini and dozens of other tenants in The Prescott apartments are dealing with rent hikes between $250-$400 or they can accept a few thousand dollars from the landlord, Green Cities Company, to relocate.
“I wish that they would think about the people that this affects,” Cecchini said.
Now, some low-income tenants have to make impossible decisions, like Cecchini who is considering leaving her job in Portland and moving back in with family in Salem.
“And even then, my dad and my little brother live in a trailer. They’ll take me and they won’t let me be homeless. But there’s not even enough room for them in there, let alone for me to come there with my dog,” Cecchini said.
Tenant rights advocates said buildings like the Prescott, which are less than 15-years-old, are not subject to the state’s 14.6% cap on rent increases.
“There were a number of loopholes, big enough to drive a train through,” Alli Sayre, of Portland Tenants United, told KOIN 6 News.
“It’s a well-intentioned program that is poorly executed,” Sayre said. “But city officials have known about this, that this has been a problem for a long time.”
Tenant union leaders said city and state officials need to immediately consider implementing reasonable caps on rent increases for the low-income tenants in the MULTE program and reducing the current 15-year grace period on new buildings where rent caps don’t apply to avoid these issues with the other MULTE buildings.
Meanwhile, Cecchini said the affordable program within her building expires in two years.
“And so you’ve kicked the ball down the road and well, now we’re at the ball again. Are you going to let us be homeless when Portland’s having a homeless crisis?” Cecchini said. “Are you going to try and bridge the gap? Are you going to do anything, literally anything?”
Cecchini said this is the problem with politicians avoiding the inevitable because eventually, policy makers let the city’s most vulnerable down.
The city no longer approves new applications under the prior version of the MULTE program, which required 10 years of affordability for a 10-year exemption, according to the Housing Bureau.
Currently, the MULTE program is only available for Inclusionary Housing projects, which have a 99-year affordability period, which applies even after the ten-year tax exemption expires.
City records show there are roughly affordable 1,500 units within the Inclusionary Housing projects. However, tenant rights advocates said it’s hard to fix the housing crisis, when hundreds more will enter housing insecurity soon.