PORTLAND, Ore — Dozens of low-income tenants and supporters filled the sidewalk outside Prescott apartments in North Portland on Monday morning to protest a recent rent increase of nearly 50%, asking the management company to reduce it to 5%.
"My rent is almost doubling," said Kelsey Schreiner.
She has lived at Prescott for nine years and her rent has been raised twice. The latest increase was $403, a 43% jump.
"I've got a four-year-old daughter and I’m in school full time for psychology and I don't know how I’m going to cover that," Schreiner said. She said there's no way she can afford to live there anymore.
"When your chest just feels like it's going to collapse and you have no stability — that's what it feels like," she said.
Another tenant, Shela Cecchini, said her rent went up $250.
"Essentially, that was going to make my rent the entirety one of my paychecks," she said. "I already live paycheck to paycheck."
Portland limits rent increases for affordable housing to 5%, but through a program called the Multiple-Unit Limited Tax Exemption or MULTE, buildings that are newer than 15 years old, like Prescott, are exempt from that limit for 10 years. The MULTE program at Prescott expires next year, meaning rent could soon increase for tenants there even more.
"The whole point of building new housing is to try and get people off the streets," Cecchini said. "So if that new housing to those low-income people is exempt from the rent cap that's supposed to be keeping people off the streets, you've defeated the whole purpose."
In a letter to tenants, Green Cities Property Management, an investment company that recently bought the building, said the increase is justified because residents' rent has not been raised for several years, resulting in the rental rate being below MULTE limits. They've offered to pay the increase through the end of January and gave tenants who wanted it money to move. Schreiner got $4,200.
"It's not enough," Schreiner said. "That's not enough money to move anywhere in Portland."
KGW reached out to Green Cities but hasn't heard back yet. Meanwhile these tenants formed a union and are turning to the city for help. If nothing gets done in time, they're asking for their rent to be subsidized by the city.
"People have moved out of homelessness and into The Prescott and into these other MULTE units. That should be a success. It is not a success if those same people get pushed back out of their housing into tents," said Margot Black, one of the protest organizers and founder of Portland Tenants United, a nonprofit that advocates for Portland tenants.
The fear of becoming homeless is now top of mind for many of these tenants.
"This type of rent increase, it's not a new lease, it's an eviction without being an eviction," Cecchini said.
"If I have to move, I can't move anywhere else in the city," Schreiner said. "I will be homeless or I will have to go to some other state."
These tenants and supporters aren’t backing down anytime soon. They have a petition with about 300 signatures. They’re sending it to Housing Commissioner Dan Ryan. In a statement to KGW, Ryan's office said he and the Portland Housing Bureau "are committed to working towards a resolution at the Prescott Apartments." (Read the full statement from Ryan at the end of this article)
"We're gearing up for a fight that we're not going to stop until we win," Black said.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty showed up to the rally in support of the tenants. She said city council needs to take immediate action to prevent these types of raises.
Rene Gonzalez, who's running against Hardesty for city council, was not at the rally but told KGW in a statement: "We need to substantially increase new housing units in the city as soon as possible to bring down the cost of living for all Portlanders, particular our most vulnerable residents. In the meantime, we need to assure effective rental support for those at risk of housing instability. This will require more than protests and I look forward to working collaboratively at city hall on solutions that have an immediate impact moving Portland forward."
Full statement from Housing Commissioner Dan Ryan:
"The Commissioner and the Portland Housing Bureau are committed to working towards a resolution at the Prescott Apartments. We are connecting with Green Cities, the property owner, as well as with Multnomah County to discuss all potential options to address the impending rent increases on the 31 units of affordable housing at the Prescott Apartments.
"The Prescott is a unique situation. Rents in the regulated units remain significantly below HUD limits, which seems to indicate these rents have only increased minimally in recent years. Further, the affordable units are regulated by the former MULTE program, which was substantially changed in 2017 and which we no longer use for new projects.
"We are working towards a solution to mitigate the impact these sudden rent increases are having on the tenants and their families."