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By Arashi Young | The Skanner News
Published: 02 June 2016

Two worlds collided outside the Portland Art Museum last Thursday evening. On one side of a golden velvet rope were property managers, landlords and their lobbyists. On the other side was Portland Tenants United.

The property managers dressed in formal wear to attend an exclusive, private event -- the Multifamily NW ACE Awards.

The tenants’ union staged a protest of the event and hosted its own awards ceremony to bring attention to Portland’s worsening housing crisis.

Margot Black, an organizer behind the protest, told The Skanner News the demonstration was meant to bring attention to those who profit from high rents and housing instability. Multifamily NW was chosen because they lobby to fight bans on no-cause evictions, inclusionary zoning and other regulations intended to stabilize Portland housing.

“This is a group who has never had the spotlight shined on them in terms of their contribution to the housing crisis -- their celebration of the housing crisis,” Black said. “I think it’s time that people know who’s paying our lawmakers and that they know we’re watching.”


Since October of 2008, the Multifamily NW Political Action Committee and the Metro Multifamily Housing Association Political Action Committee have spent over $100,000 in political contributions, according to the Oregon Secretary of State OreStar report.

The majority of these donations are to Oregon state legislators. ​House Speaker Tina Kotek has received a combined total of $9,500 from both PACs through four separate donations.

Portland City Commissioners Steve Novick, Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman have all received contributions from the PACs,  as did mayoral candidate Jules Bailey and mayor-elect Ted Wheeler.

The protest began in the park blocks in front of the Portland Art Museum. Music was provided by David Rokics, who sang out the song lyric, “Who gave you the right to be a landlord?” as protestors gathered around the “Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider” bronze sculpture.

PTU organizer Austin Rose addressed the crowd, speaking of a Portland that is slipping away -- a former working- and creative-class city being devoured by moneyed interests. Rose said the landlord lobby has been actively encouraging the crisis and increasing their profits.

Portland Tenants United had been circulating a video from a Multifamily NW breakfast event in 2012. MFNW member Maureen MacNabb gave a 16-minute speech where she joked about the homeless and referred to tenants as children she has to manage.

“One of the representatives from Multifamily Northwest …  talks about how the housing disaster is in their best interests,” Rose said, referring  to the video. “The landlords don’t want this problem to go away, our pain is their gain.”

To respond the MFNW ACE event, where the organization awards categories such as the “Property Manager of the Year” and the best “Property of the Year,” the PTU held their own mock awards.  The tenant group gave out awards for the “Biggest Rent Increase,” “Most Dramatic No-Cause Eviction” and “Crisis Profiteer of the Year.”

The tone of the mock event was pointed and satirical. Black held up a cue card to tell the crowd when to give their “biggest fat-cat landlord laugh” and the group obliged.

The laughs stopped when they presented the award for the most dramatic no-cause eviction.

That award was given to the Oswego Pointe apartments. In late April, tenant Gregory Zagel was facing a no-cause eviction from the apartment complex where he had lived for the last 14 years. When the Lake Oswego police arrived to arrest Zagel, he barricaded himself in his apartment and committed suicide.

The demonstration then moved to confront the MFNW gala. They walked back and forth in front of the party, shouting slogans such as “We are unstoppable, rent control is possible” and “Multifamily, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side.”

Tensions flared as the guests tried to push through the throngs of demonstrators. Security guards held the line between the two parties. Some protestors were content to shout slogans while walking up and down the block. Other protestors yelled at the partygoers.

Assistant Attorney General for the Oregon Department of Justice (and former mayoral candidate) David Schor was among the dozens of demonstrators marching in front of the building.

Schor told The Skanner News that the rent increases being seen in Portland are way out of proportion from anything the city has seen before and current policies risk doing irreversible damage to neighborhoods.

“This is the issue that is changing the character of Portland right now,” Schor said. “It is … an urgent issue for some people that are facing imminent homelessness or being displaced out of our community.”

Near the end of the demonstration, a handful of protestors jumped over the golden velvet rope divider and tried to crash the private event. Security guards managed to pull the doors back and lock them. At 7 p.m., the planned end time for the protest, the tenants’ group dispersed.

Black told The Skanner News that the night’s demonstration was only the beginning of the work of PTU.

“Our ranks will only grow. There are more of us than there are them,” Black said. “They have more money, they beat us with money -- but we beat them with votes and we are not going to stop talking until we win.”

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