Homeless face hidden hurdles to housing

Homeless face hidden hurdles to housing

Excerpted from KATU News By Brian Wood

Some of the struggles homeless people face in our community are hidden hurdles that most other people don’t think twice about.

Among those hurdles is as simple, and complicated, as applying to rent a home or apartment.

Those applications usually come with fees that many homeless people we talked with say add up to keeping them homeless.

“$45 denials are getting to be expensive after a while,” said Marcus Williams one night while standing next to the truck he’s living in in Southeast Portland.

He’s talking about the screening fees landlords charge for criminal background checks, credit histories, etc. The problem, he and others say, is they get rejected so many times they must pay the fees repeatedly.

Ken Samson knows this all too well. He was homeless in Portland.

“If you went out and put in five applications at $50 a whack, that is $250,” he said. “That’s a lot of money out of my pocket, to take food off my table.”

He is now renting a room in Northeast Portland, but says he was burned in the process.

“I stayed in a place when they charged me a screening fee, and the landlord never did a background check or screening. They just pocketed the money,” Samson said.

That is among the hurdles Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s Fair Access in Renting ordinance, FAIR, is supposed to address.

“It can cost hundreds of dollars, especially for people who have these additional barriers and are getting rejected over and over again,” she said.

The Council passed the ordinance in June. It goes into effect next March.
Under FAIR, landlords can’t turn down applicants if they make at least 2 to 2.5 times the rent.

FAIR encourages landlords to accept tenants with criminal convictions if the convictions are more than three years ago for misdemeanors and seven years ago for felonies.

The rules also limit security deposits in most cases to no more than one month’s rent.
FAIR regulates the amount of money landlords can charge for screening an applicant and requires landlords to consider applications on a first come, first served basis.

Also, in many cases, landlords must give any rejected applicant a written reason why.

The organization Multifamily Northwest represents small and large rental property owners. Executive Director Deborah Imse argued against the ordinance.

She said, “These policies are not going to do anything to reduce rent. They’re not going to cause more construction of affordable housing. They’re not going to make apartment communities any safer. What they really are going to do is cause more housing instability.”

She says she is already hearing from small and large property owners “stories of people selling because they can’t possibly do all these rules and regulations. The big guys have stopped investing in the city of Portland. There’s been a 38% drop off in investment in the city of Portland.”
She also says landlords were left out of the decision-making on FAIR.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly disagrees.

“We really went out of our way to take into account all the concerns that were expressed,” she said. “The reality is there is going to be a segment of the industry that doesn’t want any regulation. They’ve gone from being a very lightly regulated industry to, I would say, moderately regulated.”

The first in a series of meeting about implementing the new rules occurs Tuesday, Dec. 10 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Martha Washington Apartments at 1115 S.W. 11th Ave. in Portland.

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