Margot Black

Candidate for Portland Commissioner, Position 2

Letter Grade: A+

Overall Score: 74/75

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?

Yes, in addition to PTU, my campaign is leading the call on this and much has already been accomplished as a result of the public pressure we've created. I contributed to the formation of PTU’s ‘COVID-19 State of Emergency Housing Security Package’, and will continue to use my campaign to aggressively promote the demands that have not already been won.

I am asking the city to pass a resolution calling for the state to lift the ban on local rent control and freeze all rent increases through the end of 2020, and absent of statewide action, I am asking for the city to enact local rent control with or without the state’s cooperation, regardless of the legal liabilities.

I am extremely concerned at the current local and statewide response that explicitly requires affected renters to pay back the rent at some point, because this is an unrealistic expectation and opens the door to all sorts of confusion and unnecessary antagonism in the landlord-tenant relationship at this time. Ultimately, if COVID has affected a renter’s ability to pay rent, I do not think they should have continued liability for that. I favor an approach that offers categorical rent forgiveness to renters, but provides landlords an avenue for relief from their rent-related financial obligations as well. I do not think that public funds should subsidize profits of any kind, only operational costs related to keeping the lights on, the property out of foreclosure, and the staff paid. (4.8/5)

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

First we need to be clear about what we mean when we refer to our “current housing crisis”. The Black community in Portland (and nationwide) is not wrong or misguided in their frustration that skyrocketing rents and tenants’ rights only started getting attention when it started to affect white people with privilege. And I fully concede that I am guilty of being such a white person. Though my traumatic experiences with landlords started in 1998 with a discriminatory no-cause eviction, well before anyone was talking about a “housing crisis” in Portland or beyond, I didn’t feel the full indignity and injustice of our lack of tenants rights until I had achieved certain privilege that compelled me to feel that I—a then-married and well-educated professional with a family!— should somehow be immune to no-cause evictions and unaffordable rent increases. More to the point: When Oregon was founded, people of color were constitutionally prohibited from living or working or owning property in the state with language that was only recently removed from the state’s constitution. Thus, people of color in this state, especially Black and indigenous Portlanders/Oregonians, and immigrants and refugees, have never not had to deal with a “housing crisis” when it comes to finding quality and secure housing for themselves and their families. To the extent that we define “housing crisis” as a condition where rent and the number of people without stable housing are both rapidly increasing, the root cause is the fact that land and housing are treated as commodities and investment vehicles in our economy, instead of thought of as part of the commons. Under this framework, the invisible hand of capitalism ensures that developers will never build enough supply to meet (long-term) demand, nor will they voluntarily build housing for low/fixed/zero-income households. It also means that rent is unapologetically set by the “market”, regardless of whether or not that rate is “affordable” to the people paying it. In particular, Black Portlanders have been forced into crisis after crisis over the decades, including the flooding of Vanport, the construction of Legacy Emanuel Hospital, the construction of I-5 and the Memorial Coliseum, Urban Renewal policies that disinvested in Black communities causing decay, redlining that prevented Black folks from buying homes in neighborhoods where they could amass and transfer generational wealth, and the economically violent forces of gentrification over the last 30 years in historically Black neighborhoods. The solution is to decommodify housing and massively expand public housing, so that if private market rental housing is going to be a thing, it has to compete with quality public housing available to anyone at a price guaranteed to be affordable to them. Our current housing crisis is one where tenants are viewed as dollar signs, not humans with families, and where speculation drives up prices so high that families are forced to take on dangerous debt loads to buy homes and/or become landlords themselves by renting out bedrooms. There is no panacea solution to this besides decommodification. (4.8/5)

4.) Do you rent or own your residence?

Rent (2/2)

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

No (2/2)

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?

Because I was one of the primary architects of the relocation assistance ordinance, and served on the Relocation technical advisory committee and Portland’s Rental Services Commission (RSC), I know the policy, power map, and legal constraints inside and out. Reforming relocation and lifting the ban on rent control will be top priorities of mine if elected, and if they have not already been accomplished (in the shadow of COVID-19) prior to my election. In the latter case, I will ensure that any changes to relo or emergency rent control provisions passed by the city remain in place permanently, within reason.

At this moment in time it is hard to offer a specific timeline, because we just do not know what the economic and policy landscape will be when I take office, especially because this is a special election and I could potentially be in office in June, or September, instead of January like other city council races. But it will be my very visible top priority to ensure that renters and folks without homes are not further destabilized during this public health crisis, and that they have the ability to become permanently stabilized (with respect to secure and accessible housing where they need to live and that they can afford), during and after. (5/5)

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?

Community engagement of all underrepresented voices is a top priority for me. I am a movement candidate, drawn to this race to help strengthen and build the movement, and listen to the people. Serving as an appointed member of Portland’s Rental Services Commision has been an eye-opening experience for me about who has a seat at the table, and whose voices are either absent because of systematic barriers to access, or erased through symbolic public engagement processes.

I would like to see a variety of voices better represented in all levels of city business and engagement. Low-income renters, youth, seniors, people with disabilities, front-line and service industry workers, educators, non-native english speakers, people of color, immigrants and refugees, single parents, the poor and working class, and others with low socio-economic status need to be meaningfully engaged and included in policy development and decisions for all aspects of city business and decision making.

I have many ideas for making this happen, from regularly holding council meetings in the evenings and shaking up city advisory bodies to creating east side city satellite locations or even a wholesale relocation of city hall. I look forward to the charter review process where we can use that opportunity to make significant changes to the election and composition of city government in ways that will dramatically increase the diversity of voices with access and influence in policy making. (5/5)

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?

Promoting misinformation about important public policies disrupts the process of informing the electorate, and thus is yet another example of big money influencing politics in unhealthy and dangerous ways. Moreover, I’ve seen firsthand how this misleading information has caused landlords to react inappropriately to the passage of this legislation, in ways that perpetuate racist stereotypes and caused harm to tenants.

There is a very fine line between freedom of expression and damaging the public interest, which should be addressed on a case by case basis, though in the case referenced in this question the landlord lobby definitely crossed the line.

Obviously I would be limited by the first amendment in terms of sanctions, but no lobby group is entitled to hold special influence over policy via appointments to commissions or meetings with commissioners.

As commissioner I am very willing to work with landlords who are willing to bring ideas and solutions to the table to address known issues that harm renters. I am unwilling to work with groups that act in bad faith and spread dangerous misinformation. I will use the power and influence I have on city council to ensure that MultifamilyNW is not consulted (nor their board members or officers) on policy development unless and until they take public accountability for intellectual dishonesty and bad faith engagement that took place during the FAIR process and on the Rental Services Commission. (5/5)

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’ve seen this happen a few times in the last several years. This dynamic should always be expected whenever we bring stakeholders with oppositional interests to the table to try to work out a policy solution that will benefit one set of interests at the expense of another.

Ultimately, the group who benefits most from the status quo is going to be deeply invested in maintaining it, and the more proposed solutions depart from it the more they will feel that they weren’t listened to. The best way to avoid this at the outset is to bring stakeholders to the table who understand the problem that needs to be addressed, agree that it’s a problem and that the status quo isn’t working, and be willing to bring productive and constructive ideas and feedback to the table in service of finding a solution. The landlords who have walked away from these processes often do so claiming that there isn’t actually a problem in need of a solution, that the status quo was fine, so of course they aren’t going to “get everything they want” because what they want is to kill the process altogether.

There are professional landlords who recognize the problems with the status quo, and their severity, and will work together towards a solution. The key is bringing these people to the table initially, clearly defining the desired outcomes of the process early and often, and managing expectations of those who benefit from the status quo so they understand they are prepared for results that are going to necessarily change their business practices.

If a landlord-representative threatens to walk away from a process that they pretty clearly want to kill or delegitimize, the answer isn’t to equivocate, it’s to find another representative who is better suited to participate.

I do think it’s important that concerns or issues with a proposed policy solution are discussed and understood, and where we can mitigate impact on the landlord side without cutting into the desired outcomes for the tenant, we should. But there’s a difference between not being “listened to”, and not getting everything you want. (5/5)

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? 

Yes. I support Portland Sanctuary City status, and would tenaciously advocate for and support proposals to significantly strengthen this status. I believe that housing rights play a critical role in this status being meaninful, because if Immigrants, refugees, and undocumented renters don’t have a stable and secure home, how can they have Sanctuary in Portland?

Immigrants, refugees, and undocumented residents very commonly experience forms of intimidation, discrimination, and harassment from landlords who know that the tenant has limited options for housing or enforcing their rights. PTU’s Tenant Protection Ordinance is an important piece of the solution for tenants facing intimidation, harassment and bullying from their landlords.

But even if enforcement wasn’t an issue, there are many lawful ways that cause these folks to live in constant housing precarity due to common rules in leases that disparately impact them, such as occupancy limits and restrictions on overnight guests. As well, undocumented workers are more vulnerable to wage theft and financial precarity which directly impacts their ability to pay rent regularly. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am committed to centering the needs of these community members to get it done. (4.4/5)

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?

A key protection tenants need is a way to enforce their rights or bring grievances against a landlord without having to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit, or put themselves at risk for retaliation by bringing a grievance forward. The Office of Rental Services should be playing a key role in this, but there’s a profound lack of political will to even start the discussion.

The city has a role to play to assist tenants who are being treated unfairly by landlords and property managers, and until there is more accountability for bad behavior, the behavior will continue. I would strongly advocate for an RSO that can take complaints, investigate, and issue a decision or penalty, and track these violations in a way that is accessible to the public so that renters can make informed decisions about who they are renting from (this will strongly incentivize better landlord behavior). (4.6/5)

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

So many! Here are a couple:

I want to require landlords to be licensed with required training, testing, continuing education, and carrots and sticks built into licensure requirements that will compel quality practices and adherence to rules. One compliance requirement would be that all termination notices (for-cause, no-cause, non-payment) should be recorded with the city so that we actually have data to track and study displacement in order to bring more powerful anti-displacement policies.

I want to “look under the hood” of our current affordable housing supply, to expose the problems with our current mode of bringing this housing to market (through the Low-income housing tax credit program; LITHC) that cause the price tag to be so high both to develop and for renters in need of much lower priced housing. Publicly funded or subsidized affordable housing should actually be affordable There are so many reasons it’s not, but little political will to do anything about it. (5/5)