By Kepper Petzing | Contributing writer
Tenants facing eviction could qualify for free legal representation if Ballot Measure 26-238, known as Eviction Representation for All (ERA), becomes law.
Multnomah County voters will vote on the measure in the May 16 Special District Election. If approved, the ERA would provide free legal representation for any tenant facing eviction in Multnomah County. The program would be funded by an increase in capital gains tax of .75 %.
How would it work?
Many renters facing eviction can’t afford a lawyer. If they go to court, they must represent themselves. If they lose their case, an eviction goes on their record, making it difficult to rent again.
The ERA initiative would create a new Tenant Resource Office to provide free legal representation to anyone facing eviction. There would be no other changes to landlord-tenant laws or eviction proceedings under the ERA.
In 2022, 6,577 residential eviction cases were filed in Multnomah County, and it’s estimated that in Portland between 25% and 62% of evictions lead to houselessness. Landlords are allowed to raise rents this year by up to 14.6%. Since Portland wages have not kept up with rent increases, evictions are expected to increase.
More than 40 community, housing, labor, faith and legal organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, Urban League of Portland, Portland Association of Teachers and the National Lawyers Guild, support the ERA.
Meanwhile, opponents include the Portland Business Alliance, Mayor Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and Metro Council President Lynn Peterson.
The differences between proponents and opponents center around just who should qualify for attorney representation and how to fund it. Who should receive free legal representation?
Research has found that a right to counsel for those facing eviction leads to more than 90% of tenants avoiding eviction, with tenants either able to stay in their current home or able to move directly into other stable housing. Because of this, both Portland and Multnomah County allocated money for a limited number of low-income tenants to have free legal defense. With these programs in place, still only 9% of tenants had legal representation in eviction court in 2022. The ERA, on the other hand, applies to everyone, regardless of income.
“I believe it should be a fundamental right to have legal representation when facing something as traumatic and life changing as being evicted from your home,” Concordia resident Anna Fritz said. “I have friends and family members, hard-working people, who find they are too poor to afford a lawyer but too rich to qualify for government programs.”
The ERA program would be funded by a $7.50 tax on each $1,000 of profits from the sale of capital assets such as stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies, and real estate. There would be no taxes on wages or regular business income. In 2020, 85% of capital gains income went to the richest 5% of Oregonians.
Nonetheless, some opponents contend new taxes could have a damaging effect on the economy. Mayor Wheeler, for example, has stated, “I cannot support an additional tax that could have the impact of driving investment out of Portland.”
Other opponents have echoed this concern. Proponents argue that the ERA, by reducing homelessness, will save up to $68 million in public funds spent on such services as emergency housing, foster care and medical care.
Ballots will be mailed by April 26. You can register to vote via mail, online or in person until Tuesday, April 25. For more information, visit multco. us/elections/may-16-2023-specialdistrict-election.
Kepper Petzing has lived in Concordia for 40 years, where, with their partner Lowen, they raised two children. They are nonbinary. They love community and are grateful for Concordia News.