Growing pains: After a year, Portland Rent Board seeks new members

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Portland’s year-old Rent Board faces growing pains, including the resignation of one member who suggested City Hall could do more to support the volunteer panel.

Operating with just five of seven possible members, the board, established by referendum in 2020, discussed expediting the appointment process for new members at its July 27 meeting. Appointing a new board member could take more than a month, which could be detrimental considering the board meets only once a month.

Elliott Simpson
Elliott Simpson, chair of the Portland Rent Board, in a screenshot from the panel’s July 27 remote meeting. Simpson said in an interview that the board has served its purpose well in its first year. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)

Austin Sims, who resigned for personal employment reasons, wrote in an email that the city can do more to support the board and the Housing Safety Office to ensure both entities have the resources they need.

“The 2020 ordinance increased long-term unit registration fees, and while that money has enabled HSO to do more, that money has not been made available to empower the rent board to the greatest benefit of Portlanders,” Sims wrote.

That means funding that isn’t specifically outlined in the ordinance, he added, should be used for researchers and consultants.

If any major changes are made they would have to be outside of the ordinance, since the city isn’t able to amend the ordinance for several years. City Hall spokesperson Jessica Grondin wrote in an email that city staff hope to continue working with the board as the system matures.

Regardless, Sims said he thought the Rent Board has been meeting its goals. “The board has, without a doubt, fulfilled its purpose,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean there isn’t substantive work ahead.”

Part of that work will be dealing with turnover. The terms of two members – at-large representative Elias Kann, and District 4 representative Ian McCracken– will expire in March 2023.

Chair Elliott Simpson said he reached out to the city to inquire about expediting the appointment process and hopes to hear back soon. The city sent out an email on July 27 seeking applicants for boards and committees, including the two seats currently open on the Rent Board after the June resignations of District 2 member Josef Kijewski and Sims from District 5.

The lack of a full board has been challenging because of the quorum requirements in the ordinance, Simpson said. The board needs four members for a quorum and at least four members voting in the affirmative to approve anything.

Simpson said many municipalities with rent control have professional staff to do the work rather than volunteers. But lacking that, he said the city is lucky to have a skilled group of board members who in the first year managed to streamline the board process and clarify forms used by tenants and landlords.

He acknowledged the new ordinance and new processes were initially confusing for tenants and landlords, but over time, he said, it has improved.

Simpson said “time will tell” how renting in Portland has changed over the last year, as the board completes its initial annual report, including a close look at HSO data about rental rates in the city.

The board meets next on Aug. 24, when it will vote on the report, which will then be presented to the City Council.

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