April 24, 2013
Yesterday, Nick was a guest on OPB's Think Out Loud for a segment about Speaker Tina Kotek's proposed legislation to reform the Housing Choice Voucher - or Section 8 - program statewide. He joined Phil Owen of the Rental Housing Association of Greater Portland, a group representing mostly small landlords in the Portland area.
Section 8, administered by local housing authorities, is the nation's largest housing program. Here in Multnomah County, Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland) administers more than 8,000 vouchers, which deliver more than $50 million in rent assistance to our community each year. Who uses vouchers in our community? In large part, voucher-holders are older adults, families with children, people with disabilities, and people from communities of color.
When Nick took office in 2008 he convened a task force to identify common-sense strategies to make the Section 8 program work better for landlords and renters. The good work of Jill Riddle and the team at Home Forward ultimately helped more renters with vouchers successfully find apartments, and has become a model for the rest of the state.
But a fundamental question remains. Currently, Oregon law allows landlords to refuse applications from voucher-holders. Does someone who uses a voucher to pay part of their rent deserve the same treatment as someone who doesn't? We believe they do.
Speaker Kotek's legislation will address this question by removing the exemption allowing landlords to refuse to process applications from voucher-holders. It will also expand the improvements made by Home Forward to the rest of the state.
The legislation will not force a landlord to rent to a voucher-holder. Rather, it will require them to accept and process applications from voucher-holders through their normal screening criteria. This will put people with vouchers on a level playing field with other renters and give them a fair chance at an apartment of their choosing.
The City of Portland strongly supports Speaker Kotek's bill, which is currently with the Join Ways and Means Committee in Salem. We're proud to be part of the broad coalition working to pass this bill, and look forward to the day when participants in the nation's largest housing program receive equal treatment in Oregon's private housing market.