By Anna Griffen of the Oregonian
Section 8 acceptance percentages in the metro area
The percentage of landlords in communities in the four-county metro area who accept Section 8 tenants:
1. Northwest Portland: 41 percent
2. Hillsboro/north of U.S. 26: 30 percent
3. Aloha: 37 percent
4. Beaverton:35 percent
5. Downtown Portland: 16 percent
6. Southwest Portland: 18 percent
7. Tigard/Tualatin/Sherwood: 29 percent
8. Lake Oswego/West Linn: 33 percent
9. Wilsonville/Canby: 31 percent
10. Oregon City/Gladstone: 63 percent
11. Milwaukie: 53 percent
12. Clackamas: 42 percent
13. Inner and central Southeast Portland: 32 percent
14. Outer Southeast Portland: 40 percent
15. Troutdale/Fairview/Wood Village/Gresham: 44 percent
16. Outer Northeast Portland: 57 percent
17. Inner and central Northeast Portland: 45 percent
18. North Portland/St. Johns: 64 percent (where I live)
19. West Vancouver: 50 percent
20. East Vancouver: 46 percent
--Source: Metro Multifamily Housing Association
Portland law forbid landlords from discriminating on the basis of just about everything: You can't refuse to rent to someone because of their gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, political philosophy or age.
But every day, the classified ads and Craigslist postings are cluttered with examples of the one kind of renter discrimination that remains perfectly legal.
"3 bedrm, 2 bath, good schools. No smoking, no section 8."
"1 bedroom, 2 blocks from busstop, big backyard. No pets, no sct 8."
"Cute 2 bedroom, one bath. Great location. Sorry, no Section 8."
Section 8, for those of us lucky enough to know how we'll pay the bills next month, is a federal voucher program that offers poor people government assistance with most of their rent.
Benjamin Brink/The OregonianJill Riddle, at the Hollywood East apartments on Northeast Broadway, runs the Housing Authority of Portland’s rent assistance department and oversees Section 8 vouchers. “We’re trying to show landlords that this is a new Section 8,” she says. The Hollywood East complex is among the Housing Authority’s public housing options for seniors and people with disabilities.In Portland and east Multnomah County, many landlords -- especially the bigger rental companies -- will not accept Section 8 tenants. Apartments are especially hard to find the closer you get to the central city -- in other words, the place where many of the jobs are. Housing advocates want more landlords to accept the vouchers and are working to rehabilitate the program's shabby reputation.
"Landlords don't treat you like they treat other people," says Anna Avalos, a single mother of three teenagers who is looking for Section 8 housing in outer Southeast Portland. "Most of them do not give you the time of day, and the ones who do try to take advantage of you financially because they figure you don't have anywhere else to go."
Last week she was desperate enough to post an ad on Craigslist, essentially begging for help:
"i am a single mother of three...i have section 8 and not the best rental history but not the worst...i have always paid my rent on time...i have 2 weeks left to find a place or my voucher exspires..then we will be on the street..i already am staying with family and friends..i would be willing to work out any legal deals if needed."
For the folks at the Housing Authority of Portland, the quasi-public agency that coordinates affordable housing in the city, this is the nightmare scenario. They've been holding classes for property owners and managers, explaining the benefits of Section 8 and trying to answer questions and address complaints.
For more information about the Housing Authority of Portland and the Section 8 program, visit www.hapdx.org"We're trying to show landlords that this is a new Section 8," says Jill Riddle, who runs the Housing Authority's rent assistance department and oversees Section 8 vouchers for 8,000 people at any particular time.
The vouchers often represent a first step toward stability. They're intended to deter ghettos and help deconcentrate poverty, to give low-income families a chance to live in middle-class neighborhoods with better schools and more work possibilities. In Portland, demand for the vouchers is enormous; the waiting list just to be considered runs 12 to 24 months.
But many landlords don't want to be tied into the mandatory one-year lease or to have to go to court to evict tenants who violate the terms of their contract by making too much noise or sneaking in pets. Landlords want to set their own rent rather than being forced to charge the "fair market rate," a government-set standard based on the average rent in an area. They worry about hurting property values.
And Section 8 tenants, landlords say, tend to be more trouble than people who pay the rent out of their own pockets.
Greg Knakal"A lot of property owners feel their homes are going to get damaged if they rent them out using Section 8," says Greg Knakal, this year's president of the Metro Multifamily Housing Association, a coalition of landlords.
Landlords are even blunter off the record: They talk about Section 8 tenants leaving behind full and backed up toilets, carpets stained with who knows what, trash piled to the ceiling.
"It only takes one bad experience," says Knakal, whose Princeton Property Management rents approximately 8,000 units around Portland and on the coast.
"For a long time, there were no repercussions if you rented a property and trashed it. It seemed like people who got in trouble would just get a slap on the wrist, and then go and reapply for the vouchers. No price to pay. That doesn't really make you want to take part."
During last year's City Council campaign, then-candidate Nick Fish said he would push to change the law to force Oregon landlords to take Section 8 vouchers. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., all bar property owners from refusing, though landlords can still reject potential tenants for other reasons, such as criminal records.
Fish, who won and runs the Portland Housing Bureau, now says he wants to see whether efforts to fix the program's reputation and engage landlords work before trying to make the vouchers mandatory. (If nothing else, that's smart politics: Persuading the Oregon Legislature to force Section 8 on property owners would be extremely difficult given the fundraising power and lobbying prowess of real-estate developers.)
Instead of a full-frontal assault, Fish has organized a task force to study ways to make Section 8 work without provoking landlords.
Fredrick D. Joe/The OregonianCity Commissioner Nick Fish, who runs the Portland Housing Bureau, says he wants to see if efforts to fix the Section 8 program’s reputation work before trying to require that landlords accept the federal vouchers. Fish raised the issue when he was running for City Council. "This program is going to be most successful if landlords and government and nonprofits are all working together," he says. "We've got to do a better job showing landlords that this is a new Section 8 program, that the things they worry about have been addressed and the 'tenant from hell' doesn't exist anymore."
The Housing Authority of Portland has set up a special fund to pay for apartments that get damaged. It's hired new staff to work directly with landlords and speeded up the inspection process required before a Section 8 tenant moves in.
It's also working more closely with Section 8 tenants, both to hold miscreants accountable and help what it says are the vast majority who take care of their properties, stay employed and save money so they won't always need government help.
The economic crisis has helped sway landlords. A year and a half ago, when times were good, landlords generally looked at Section 8 renters as riskier bets than other tenants and figured they could charge whatever they wanted. The percentage of vouchers returned unused rose as high as 30 percent. (People using them usually have up to 120 days to find housing. The vouchers don't cover security deposits or utilities.)
"These days the voucher is more of a sure thing," Riddle says. "Even if the person who has it loses their job, you know they have a safety net. We are going to make sure the rent gets paid."
Still, changing the overarching image of Section 8 is going to take a long time. It's still hard to find landlords in more desirable, competitive areas who participate. A recent study by the Metro Multifamily Housing Association showed that 16 percent of downtown property owners accept Section 8 vouchers. That number increased steadily the farther from the central city you go, to 64 percent in North Portland and 57 percent in outer East Portland.
To a degree, geography doesn't matter to someone desperate for shelter. But the farther from work you live, the harder it can be to show up on time day after day, particularly if you're juggling child care needs or have a disability.
"When I first got here, I was shocked at the number of classified ads that explicitly said, 'No Section 8,' because, really, that's discriminatory. You're telling someone, 'You are poor, you have hit a financial speed bump, so I am not going to even consider you,'" says Riddle, who moved to Portland from a similar job in Salt Lake City two years ago. "If you look at the paper now, it's better. But we still have a lot of hard work to do."