Eudaly: 'What kind of city do we want to live in?'
This has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Chloe Eudaly hasn't worked in politics very long. Until she was elected in a surprise in November, she owned a small bookstore called Reading Frenzy, which she operated for more than two decades. Aside from her previous life in books, she's passionate about a number of issues. In particular, she's known for championing rights of tenants. Now, as a city official, she oversees two bureaus: the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Bureau of Development Services, each of which have their own unique challenges and excitements.
Coming out of the winter, Eudaly has a number of things on her radar, from issues around homelessness to Airbnb, to thoughts about why the city doesn't work harder to publicly share its own accomplishments.
Tribune: What have you found most challenging so far in office, juggling the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI)?
Chloe Eudaly: I'm not finding it difficult. I mean the most challenging thing starting out was just that, two things: one, we took office in the middle of a severe weather emergency, and two — and this is completely beyond my control since our fiscal year is July 1 to the end of June — I stepped into office in the final three weeks or so of the budget process, so there was urgency around that for me to like get a handle on the budget and various people in the bureaus wanting to meet with me and know exactly what my plan was, and here we're like trying to keep people from dying on the streets and just kind of getting our bearings at City Hall.
So the real challenge was just the first few weeks, but now things are leveling out and I'm really excited about the work that we're doing. And I will admit that I was intimidated by the Bureau of Development Services. It was a surprise assignment for me, I mean both bureaus were surprising, but ONI made more sense because I'm a community activist and organizer and tenant advocate and champion of civic engagement and all that stuff. The BDS was intimidating, but the more I dig in, the more excited I am to get to be involved. And we get to do lots of really vital work and we can a significant impact on affordable housing development. So that has been a really unexpected bonus.
Tribune: Have you become unexpectedly passionate about any particular issues?
Chloe Eudaly: I guess it's fascinating to get to see it from this side, because from the outside looking in, it's really hard to understand all the moving parts and how complex development process is and how expensive it is just to move it through all the different permitting bureaus.
I'm excited at how we can collaborate with other bureaus. That's something I had an inkling of before taking my seat. But the more I talk to people across various bureaus all over the city and see how excited and receptive they are, the more that is becoming a focus. I did totally geek out on community benefit agreements during the campaign because that was a realm that I was pretty unaware of.
The city as a whole could do a much better job communicating with the public. And, I guess that is somewhat of a revelation to me going from an outsider to an insider perspective is that we're doing some really great work and it's what the community expects and demands of us and resents us for not doing. But then we don't bother telling them we are doing it. So as I have these conversations about how to be more collaborative and leveraging resources and supporting each other's efforts, I'm also talking to people about how to push vital information out to community members. Because as you know we've had repeated protests at City Hall and in council chambers and half the time — at least half the time — I honestly think it's a communication breakdown. That could be, people who are upset that fire and police weren't providing rides to people to shelters during the snowstorm. But they were, they provided hundreds of rides. Why didn't we share that with the public? The fire department in particular was checking in on some of the camps, the organized camps, and bringing supplies, and you know those are stories the public needs to know.
I'm glad to see more transparency by the police bureau during the investigation processes. Again I see some members of the public getting very upset because they don't know what's happening, and to them it looks like nothing is happening and that the bureau is deliberately not sharing information, when the reality is there's two investigations going on — administrative investigation and a criminal investigation — the criminal investigation is under the District Attorney. And the police bureau is severely curtailed in what they can share with the public. Well, at the very least they could share that. That it's an active investigation, that they are precluded from discussing the details. They had to ask permission from the DA to say that Quanice Hayes was not shot in the back, and he was shot three times, not twelve… cause things blew up online. They had to ask permission to share that and then just share the next step. The next step is that a grand jury will be called and when that is done, the transcripts will be shared and the information will be public. And I don't know why that's not just protocol because I really do think it would help. I think it would satisfy some of the members of the public who are justifiably upset and concerned about the incident and about how this is proceeding so, yeah, at the same time I can certainly understand why pushing that information out isn't a priority because these jobs are so demanding. And you're hopping onto a speeding train. And you know I have days, every 30-60 minutes I'm pivoting to the next meeting, an entirely different subject than the last. I don't think I've had — I've worked at least six days a week since I've taken office, if not seven. It's really hard to find the time in the day to do that, but I believe it's absolutely vital because the public feels disregarded and has the impression that we're not doing things that we're doing. And we need their support and cooperation and we need to not treat the public like children. It feels kind of paternalistic to me. I don't think that's their intent but "because I said so" or just stone cold silence is not a satisfactory answer to people who are demanding information.
Tribune: How are you working with neighborhoods on homelessness?
Chloe Eudaly: Well, I've only been here two months and we've gotten a couple letters from neighborhood associations, but I'm in the process of meeting with first the coalitions … and so those individual conversations with the neighborhood associations have not really begun. It's certainly a high priority again, because of the weather it really wasn't the time to try to initiate those conversations. I do want to engage in a community wide conversation about how we're going to address our homeless crisis and we're certainly working on it. Tenant protections in no small part deals with an inflow problem to homelessness. You know the city is putting together it's advisory body for the housing bond so that we can make sure that we're spending those dollars as effectively and responsibly as possible. So we have gotten to place someone on that committee. I'm the second chair at A Home for Everyone and so I just got to attend my first executive committee meeting because two previous meetings were either rescheduled or scheduled in conflict with city council sessions. So it's been a bumpy start not necessarily at any fault of our office, just Mother Nature. And … we're working on a variety of ways that BDS can facilitate and incentivize affordable housing development. We're looking into finally changing the zoning code on tiny houses so people can have a tiny house on their property.
Because Portland has somehow become the tiny house mecca, and it's illegal to park them on your property so we're working on that. We're also developing an app that will allow homeowners to plug their address in the app and instantly see whether their property is zoned for Accessory Dwelling Units, whether that's an internal ADU or a detached ADU. And then we're also looking for ways, kind of creative financing mechanisms for lower income homeowners that may not qualify for a bank loan but would like to build an ADU and maybe do some deferred maintenance at the same time and make their homes more energy efficient. So we're really tackling the housing crisis from multiple angles, but the one that's most prominent is obviously tenant protections cause that was the first thing we were able to roll out.
Tribune: Can you talk about the impact the relocation ordinance has had?
Chloe Eudaly: So it was a Thursday, and (the next) Tuesday I heard from one of my BDS rental inspectors that he had just inspected the home of a single mom who had been living in a substandard unit for many years, afraid to complain to the landlord for fear that she would be evicted. And the day after the re-lo ordinance passed she called for an inspection and the inspector found multiple, significant hazards in the home. Those things will either be dealt with or the family will receive relocation assistance. That was especially meaningful for me because that was me a couple years ago. Living in an unsafe substandard rental afraid to complain to my landlord who ignored my previous requests for repairs and raised my rent.
So the next big story was that the residents of Titan Manor have had their notices rescinded. So the next step in that conversation, because that's a new owner who may not have realized how run down that property was, I believe they're out of state, the next conversation to have around Titan is because inspections have happened and there are massive repairs that need to be done to bring that complex up to code, will be how the city and probably BDS can work with them to be as supportive as we can in their efforts to bring their building up to code and to hopefully keep those tenants in place so you know, we aren't on a mission to punish landlords. We're on a mission to stem the tide of cost burdening and displacement and homelessness and we're ready and willing to talk with landlords about how we can help them.
Tribune: Do you believe ending the state-wide ban on rent control is a realistic effort? Some believe that rent control actually isn't helpful — and in fact can have an adverse effect.
Chloe Eudaly: Yes, I support overturning the ban on rent control, I support repealing the preemption on just-cause evictions and I support sitting down at the table with all interested parties and talking about how we will craft a rent stabilization policy that works for everyone. There are a lot of myths out there about rent control, the first one I always like to tackle is this statistic that gets quoted pretty frequently from a study that was done in the mid-90s, that you know people claim it says something like 94 percent of economists agree that rent control doesn't work. That's not actually the question they were asked. They were asked if rent control slowed housing development, which is an undesirable outcome right if you have a housing shortage and the answer to that was yes. So that study is incredibly outdated and it is being misrepresented all over the country and throughout the media and in these conversations. So we can dispense with that. The common misunderstanding is that because many cities that have rent control have extraordinarily expensive rent, it's proof that it doesn't work. Those cities implemented rent control at some point in their history when their rents began increasing well beyond what a typical worker could pay. Rent control was instituted in New York City and San Francisco to make sure they preserved a certain percentage of their rental housing stock for low and moderate-income residents.
So the fact that non-controlled units are extraordinarily expensive is not proof that it doesn't work because those units were not rent controlled. And the argument could be made that they're more expensive because the housing stock is limited, and there is definitely something to that, although landlords can only charge what the market will bear. And in New York City and San Francisco the market will bear incredibly high rents because there is a significant portion of the population who can afford them. So it's a lot more complicated than opponents would have us believe. There's also no one way to do it.
There are also methods we are not considering. One is rent caps. There are cities I think like Berlin that says you can only charge this much money for a one bedroom apartment (or) a two-bedroom apartment. A cap is a very archaic form of rent control. I don't know that it's practiced anywhere in the United States and it's certainly not what we're talking about here. What we're talking about here is when a tenant is in place is there a reasonable percentage to limit annual increases too, based on reasonable annual increases in expenses of the landlord and a reasonable expectation to profit from that property.
And so, yeah, I do find it highly problematic that the state is precluding cities from making those decisions for themselves. Some cities will decide that they don't want to implement any regulation on the rental market and I think some cities like Portland are going to seriously look at what we can do to you know stem the tide of cost burdening, displacement and homelessness while not having a significant negative impact on development. And I mean if we can just be real for a minute, it's not like New York City and San Francisco have not continued to see development ... San Francisco has I think had rent control for decades now and New York City I think for a long longer. It's complicated but worth exploring. Because it's like, what kind of city do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a city where only the very wealthy and the very poor are left?
Tribune: Do you support tiny-home communities and villages as one solution to the affordable housing crisis?
Chloe Eudaly: Well … I would like to see the zoning change to allow tiny houses on wheels be sited on private property with permission obviously. And we're wanting to facilitate ADU development. Portland is way behind in the number of ADUs we have compared to other cities like Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. ADUs are a pretty low impact way to increase density in neighborhoods and a way for people to age in place and a way for low and moderate-income home owners to get a little rental revenue. So tiny homes are not the most efficient use of our highly-prized and priced real estate at this point.
So yes I support tiny homes as one piece of a larger strategy but it's certainly not the solution because not everyone wants to live in a tiny home, not everyone can live in a tiny home, and it's ultimately not an efficient use of every space. It's an efficient use of some spaces. And I'm going to be going to the Kenton Neighborhood Association to hear community feedback on that sleeping pod cluster. I feel optimistic. I know there's concerns, but I think there's also a lot of support in the community and I think the Village Coalition is really going about it in the right way really earning community buy in, finding the right kind of people to kind of manage the site. I hope it succeeds and that Kenton can kind of be a case study for other neighborhoods because (homelessness) really is a city-wide issue, and it is everyone's problem. It's not acceptable to keep pushing people along from one place to another when we have nowhere for them to go, so certainly one of the conversations we want to initiate with all the neighborhoods is how individual neighborhoods can contribute to the conversation and ultimately to the solution.
Tribune: Is there anything specific you're working on as far as curbing the violations on Airbnb and short-term rentals?
Chloe Eudaly: This was in motion before I was in office. BDS is now kind of increasing enforcement on hosts that have not gotten their permits and inspections. That doesn't really touch the issue we have with people illegally renting whole homes year round. I've had an initial conversation with Airbnb. I want to give Airbnb some credit for the fact they're the only short-term rental platform that is collecting and remitting lodging taxes to the city.
Tribune: Do you think Airbnb takes away from affordable housing stock?
Chloe Eudaly: Yes, absolutely. And in a couple different ways. One, is removing any units from the residential rental market decreases vacancy and puts pressure on our whole rental housing market so the fact that many of these homes are very nice homes that would not be affordable is irrelevant. It's still taking units away, decreasing vacancy and contributing to the housing crisis. There's plenty of homes on Airbnb that aren't that nice. Including rooms that were formally rented to roommates. That's a legitimate use of Airbnb though and I personally know a number of people that use Airbnb within the rules and regulations and have really come to depend on that income to pay their mortgages or to cover other expenses. And I can't begrudge someone for that. At the same time there's no denying it has had an impact on available homes, apartments, rooms and shared housing. But like I said they are collecting and remitting their lodging taxes and those taxes are dedicated to affordable housing and so they are benefitting the city in that way.
Tribune: Is there something that the city could do to make it harder to take away from affordable housing stock?
Chloe Eudaly: Well Airbnb did just start this pilot program in Portland called "One Host, One Home." That is a gesture in the right direction but doesn't really solve the problem of illegal year-round whole-home rentals because you could own two homes, live in one, and have the other one on Airbnb and you're complying with the one host, one home rule. Or you could have multiple homes and you can just sign up on Airbnb under, you know, Tom, Dick and Sally Smith, so there's easy ways to work around this new policy they've put in place, but let's give them some credit, it is a gesture. We would like their data and we would like them to build some safe guards into their platform that would make it much harder for people to flout the rules. And they're claiming that it's just not possible, that they need their platform, it needs to be a universal platform that they can't do anything special to accommodate Portland's rules. So for instance I have friends who have a basement ADU and they rent it out on Airbnb and that's totally legal. Well on Airbnb that looks like a whole home so that inflates the number of homes that look like they're being illegally rented. So Airbnb says they're just adding a box that says ADU. It's also really hard to prove somebody doesn't live in their home. How are you going do that? Set up a private investigator in front of their house?
And the neighborhoods don't like [Airbnb]. I've talked to two or three people who live in popular neighborhood destinations who barely have any neighbors left on their block because so many of the houses are Airbnbs now. I have a friend that lived in a small like second story apartment complex on Alberta everyone was evicted and the landlord told them, "We're converting these apartments into Airbnbs." That's illegal. And they don't have any answers for those stories or solutions to those kind of violations. You know I don't know what is so extraordinarily hard to understand that we have a limited housing supply, we have a certain size population and we have new people moving here every month. That anything that takes units — residential units — out of the residential pool is going to take pressure on the rental market. I get accused of not understanding supply and demand all the time, but Airbnb can't, doesn't understand supply and demand on that end. And this housing crisis isn't a simple matter of supply and demand. That's an oversimplification of what's happening here. It's a massive investment in Portland real estate by out of state investors, and that's another thing we need to look at.