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In Portland Mass Eviction, Mayor Buys Tenants a Little More Time

Fred Bever
Portland Mayor Strimling announces a deal to stay mass evictions at Grant Street.

A mass eviction from a Portland housing complex is on hold, at least for the moment. City Mayor Ethan Strimling has made a deal with the landlord to give 14 tenants more time to find alternatives.

On Wednesday afternoon, potential evictees Ronnie Icke and Roger Hunnewell stood outside their apartments near the city’s Deering Park and swapped news on the latest efforts to avoid eviction or find new shelter by the end of the month.

“They’re going to meet down here Monday,” Icke says. “Peggy’s going to be working with me hopefully every day. ‘Cause I don’t want to leave my cat here either. I got a cat and I don’t want to go homeless with her right now. This winter like this it’s too cold for my cat to be outside. Make sure you tell Anna too.”

“Oh yeah she knows,” Hunnewell says.

But less than 2 hours later, over at City Hall, Strimling announced that during a lunchtime meeting with landlord John Le, he had negotiated a reprieve. Le agreed to lift his deadline for tenants to vacate while the city and service providers helped them out of their plight.

“We feel like with the time we should be able to make sure that people have the homes that they need so that nobody is out on the street in the middle of the winter,” Strimling says. “As I have said that’s not how we do business in the city of Portland, and he was more than gracious.”

That was a contrast to Strimling’s public criticism of Le the day before.

Some of the advocates and city officials who joined Strimling say the growing opportunities for profit in the city’s competitive housing market is leading some landlords to evict low-income tenants, when they can, to renovate and boost rents — although Le’s vacate notices to renters in 24 units is believed to be the largest single such event in recent years.

Councilor Jill Duson, who chairs the city’s housing committee, says the panel is considering a range of ways to address the crisis. She’s calling for an eviction rapid-response team.

“Something like the rapid response function that the Department of Labor has when a business goes bankrupt, when an employer goes out of business, there is a comprehensive response,” she says.

Strimling says other ideas on the table include providing longer wait times before landlords can boot tenants without cause, or even to setting up landlord-financed assistance funds when they want to move units into higher price ranges.

Hunnewell says even with assistance from groups like the Shalom House, which provides housing subsidies in Portland, it’s going to be hard to find a new place in the city or nearby.

“It sucks when all these new landlords come in and they are revamping — which is a good idea — but don’t go up like $500,” he says. “Portland people don’t have it.”

It’s unclear exactly how long it could take Hunnewell and his fellow tenants — many of them at risk of homelessness and contending with mental health issues — to secure new housing. But with the landlord’s promise to hold off on court proceedings for now, they should have a little breathing room.