Julia DeGraw

Candidate for Portland Commissioner, Position 2

Letter Grade: B+

Overall Score: 65/75

1.) Would you be willing to call for a moratorium on evictions, a rent freeze, a contingency fund for rental assistance and legal aid, moratorium on utility shutoffs, and an end to sweeps during the coronavirus emergency?

Yes (2/2)

2.) Are there any additional emergency responses that you would call for other than those listed above?

I want to start by saying I support PTU’s #AprilAmnesty campaign demands.

In addition to all of PTU’s demands, people also need to have their internet access covered as a public utility throughout this crisis. Rent and mortgage freezes are crucial in addition to eviction moratoriums because most people living paycheck-to-paycheck cannot afford to cover back rent.

There needs to be similar rent freezes and assistance to small business owners, as well; the margins are incredibly tight for most small businesses and, without help, they will be forced to lay-off employees and could potentially close permanently. Since small local businesses are the number one source of employment in the Portland Metro Region, failing to assist them would be extremely damaging to the local workforce and economy.

We need a stronger and more centrally organized system for distributing goods, money, and assistance. This is particularly true at the Federal level, but there’s plenty of room for improvement at the State and local levels, as well.

One thing we could be doing immediately that requires state level action is use the kicker fund to put money in people’s pockets NOW to help them cover living expenses, rent/mortgage payments, and pay their employees. The $1,200 one-time checks from the Federal government will come late and will be inadequate to cover the extended length of the shelter in place order.

Since the peak of the pandemic is pushed back to May 3 or later in Oregon, which is very good news for public health, it means that shelter in place should be extended at least through May, and possibly into June. Given that reality, Oregonians will need financial assistance well beyond what the Federal government is offering, hence my recommendation to use the kicker right away. We need urgent action from Governor Brown on this, and if she needs permission from the State Legislature, then an emergency session, held virtually, is in order. (5/5)

3.) In your view, what are the main causes of the current housing crisis? 

A failure of leadership in the last two decades that has led to a shortage of housing at every level. It was not hard to see the boom coming; especially after seeing what happened to our West Coast neighbors in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, the City could have started planning for growth at least two decades ago. Instead, the City let the profit motive drive housing growth over those two decades, and we were caught flat-footed as the city’s population exploded. Other major issues: A lack of investment and innovation in building deeply affordable housing A lack of a cross-bureau and cross-jurisdiction “all hands on deck” approach to solving the housing crisis. A failure to invest in and bring supportive housing online fast enough. Lack of adequate funding and implementation of rental assistance (which, if done right, prevents people from losing their housing in the first place). Rental assistance should become unnecessary once we have enough affordable housing for everyone who needs it, but for the time being, this is an important tool to use to keep people in their homes. Also, the City has an incredibly risk-averse approach to addressing the urgent crisis of people currently living on the streets and focuses on misguided policies that don’t solve the problem, like spending millions of dollars on sweeps that traumatize unhoused people. I propose that the City should instead invest in desperately needed temporary shelters on public and/or private land, where the City/County can provide sanitation and health services to the unhoused population. So long as we don’t have enough shelter beds, supportive housing, and affordable housing to accommodate the unhoused population, we have to commit to providing safe temporary shelters throughout the city. Of course this will be challenging, but it is what is required of us until there are enough supportive housing units and places for people to live at every level of income. (4/5)

4.) Do you rent or own your residence?

Own under mortgage (0/2)

5.) Are you currently a landlord? If so, in what capacity?

I rent out a bedroom to a housemate (and his adorable cat) to help me cover my mortgage payment.(0/2)

6.) Portland’s relocation ordinance currently kicks in at a rent increase at 10% or above. Would you favor lowering the amount that triggers relocation payments if a rent increase forces tenants to move?

Yes (2/2)

7.) If elected, would you work to overturn the state of Oregon’s preemption preventing local rent control measures?

Yes (2/2)

8.) If you answered yes to #6 and #7, how would you champion or advocate for the changes needed? What are your priorities and timeline?

I would champion both of these issues. To me, removing the state's preemption is the low bar of what is required. We desperately need to enact proactive measures to improve home ownership rates by providing aggressive assistance programs to first-time home buyers, expanding the land trust model (similar to the Proud Ground model), and encouraging more co-housing to address the urgent crisis. I also support the Residential Infill Program to help us build much needed density to help address the housing crisis.

During the next full legislative session in 2021, I would push the City’s lobbyists to partner with tenant groups and other organizations like PTU to prioritize removing the rent control preemption (because we need this as a tool to help stop displacement from gentrification) and on day one I will support lowering the percentage of rent increase that triggers relocation assistance (and work with fellow commissioners and the mayor to attempt to make it happen). I will personally advocate for these things publicly as well. (4.8/5)

9.) If elected, would you support the right of tenants to collectively bargain their leases and rent? 

Yes (2/2)

10.) Would you support an effort like the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, that would allow tenants, delegated non-profits, or the City the first opportunity to buy a house or housing complex when the owner puts it up for sale?

Yes (2/2)

11.) If elected, would you support a requirement for tenant legal representation during eviction proceedings, including a mechanism to provide it?  Would you support allowing non-attorney advocates for tenants?

Yes (2/2)

12.) If elected, would you ask Portland Tenants United to participate in any community engagement process that involves tenant law or housing justice issues?

Yes (2/2)

13.) How would you ensure that policies and processes which affect tenants meaningfully include impacted renters, and reflect the diversity of the tenants affected?

I will have staff whose job it is to connect with community organizations to ensure we are adequately engaging them with our policies and processes. If a committee or commission is formed to inform housing or tenant policy, I will make sure that renters who are asked to serve on those committees are compensated, offered child care, that they are representative of the community, and that the committee has real power to influence the policy-making process and outcomes. (4.8/5)

14.) Would you refuse or return campaign contributions from Multifamily NW's Equitable Housing PAC, The Good Landlord PAC, More Housing Now! PAC, or similar real estate industry PACs?

Yes (2/2)

15.) During the hearings for the Fair Access in Renting (FAIR) ordinances, MultiFamily Northwest led an information campaign based upon misleading, inaccurate, and racist claims. How would you hold landlord groups accountable when they spread dangerous misinformation?

It’s always the responsibility of the City or any governing agency to be prepared to do extensive public education when it enacts policies that will trigger strong, well-financed opposition. The best way to take on a misinformation campaign is to inoculate the public to the false narrative before the opposition has the chance to mislead people. As a career organizer, I have encountered this countless times, particularly on the Genetically Modified Food Labeling ballot measure and the campaign to Keep Nestle Out of the Gorge. This means getting op-eds and stories in the press, having community leaders publicly support the City’s efforts, running ads to educate the public, hosting public town halls (not just regular City Council sessions), working with community partners to spread accurate information, and other methods of public education. Then when the opposition tries to hit the public with its misinformation, it’s much harder for it to stick.

Once the misinformation starts, City leaders need to be prepared to call it out as an act of self interest, and restate the public information already broadly publicized. Ideally, it should not just be one or two City Commissioners, but all the elected officials and appropriate directors/bureaucrats/community leaders defending the City’s policies. That unified voice will also help quell the opposition’s misinformation. I would commit to working hard to get commitments from all elected officials on Council to stand strong against misinformation campaigns against the policies, ordinances, and programs we pass and implement. (4.8/5)

16.) Landlords and lobbyists have often walked away from political processes if they didn’t get everything they want. How will you respond if landlords and lobbyists refuse to engage in good faith toward a tenant friendly solution to some housing crisis problem?

I would start by offering to listen. We may not agree on everything or completely share each other’s goals, but my job as an elected official will be to take into account all perspectives before making decisions and to inform processes. At the end of the day, no one can force someone to stay at the table, but I believe my 15 year career of coalition building and management sets me up to do a good job of creating a large table, and keeping people at the table through decision-making processes––and at engendering good faith in that space.

In a broad and diverse coalition where no one has any real authority over anyone else, what keeps everyone at the table is some shared interest/goal, and their own self interests and goals. I will make sure that I do what I can to create a space where acting in bad faith is unacceptable and will prove ineffective, while acting in good faith is rewarded and leads to productive outcomes. Everyone will always understand what drives me are my values; I will always push for policies that serve the people of this city, and everyone at the table has to share that fundamental value in order to participate. (3.6/5)

17.) Do you support maintaining and strengthening Portland's status as a Sanctuary City?  How will you work to protect tenants from discrimination or retaliation based on their immigration status? 

I strongly support maintaining and strengthening Portland’s Sanctuary City status. One way we can do that is to track whether or not landlords are failing to rent to black, indigenous, and people of color, and use that data to enforce anti-discrimination policies. We also need to track data on whether or not landlords are disproportionately evicting or penalizing BIPOC individuals, and penalize those who are proven to be discriminatory. Policies are only effective if you enforce them, plain and simple. Landlords should not be able to ask citizenship status questions on rental applications and should not require social security numbers. Additionally, the City should not track country of origin data in any of its databases – the City cannot be forced to share information it does not keep. (4.2/5)

18.) Environmental upgrades to old buildings is a necessary tool in the fight for environmental justice but could lead to displacement without strong tenant protections. Would you support strengthening the anti-displacement and tenant protection intention expressed in the Portland Clean Energy Fund ordinance by adding more specific enforcement measures to the ordinance and to similar future policies? 

Yes (2/2)

19.) What other tenant protections would you advocate? What would be your plan to enact changes?

I fully support the Portland Clean Energy Fund and any way to create more concrete and specific measures that ensure that environmental upgrades don’t lead to displacement and gentrification, as improvements are also something I support. As is often the case, once broad sweeping measures are passed, we spend some time fine-tuning and improving them. I know it is the intention of PCEF to create a more just and equitable system, and that would have to ensure that environmental improvements to our housing don’t lead to displacement or any harms to tenants. Ensuring strong tenant protections and enforceable anti-displacement measures for all housing and development projects, policies, and measures will be a priority for me when elected to Portland City Council. (4/5)

20.) Are there other ways, besides those you have already mentioned, that you will champion housing affordability, expand tenant rights, and fight displacement?

Housing as a human right and I am 100% committed to treating that way. I will work together with PTU and community groups from across the city to ensure strong anti-displacement policies, end no-cause evictions, strengthen and expand tenant rights, and provide adequate housing for every Portland resident. As a person who knows what it’s like to have to choose between paying for groceries or utilities, I know what it's like to be a renter struggling to make ends meet. I’ve been lucky and privileged enough to have help from family members when times were tight – my grandma helping me with groceries and my parents covering my cell phone bill and helping with college debt. I know not every Portlander has the kind of privilege I do. I promise to always stand in solidarity with renters and to do my best to make sure no one falls through the cracks just because they don’t have the kind of support I’ve been privileged enough to have in my life. (3.6/5)