portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting portland metro

community building | economic justice


Tenant Rights Project has organized a yearlong campaign against downtown slumlord (but 'nonprofit'), Central City Concern. Recently, the landlord, CCC, created a new position (lawyer), and has now decided to increase police presence in somoe buildings (to fight crime/drugs), and will host a community forum in Jan. 2010.
For over a year, Tenant Rights Project, together with PSU Progressive Student Union, has organized a tenant rights campaign against persistent pest control problems (mice, roaches, bedbugs in many of the landlord's 23 buildings), crime issues, and lack of accountability/transparency by Central City Concern (CCC): the board meetings of this landlord are closed to tenants, tenants are prohibited from speaking at board meetings, and the board minutes are secret.

In response to weekly meetings on Sunday nights for a year (with tenants from as many as four buildings, so far), CCC recently created a new position (hired a lawyer who used to practice corporate law back east). This lawyer attended (bossed?) three meetings in recent weeks of Tenant Rights Project, says that he will contact Portland Police for increased presence in some of the buildings (to do 'knock and talks'), and, is setting up a community meeting for Sunday night, Jan. 10, at 6pm in the Biltmore Building back-room lobby, 310 NW Sixth Street.

Besides persistent pest control and secret board meeting issues, one of the issues in the CCC buildings downtown concerns crime, drugs, prostitution, kickbacks, (and recently, sex harassment by one manager, who was fired by CCC after a picket by Tenant Rights Project), etc. In at least two of the buildings, Butte (Sisters of the Road is on the first floor of this building) and Biltmore, there is a culture of 'snitch v. non-snitch' amongst the predominantly male SRO tenants. Drug dealing on Sixth Avenue and in this part of downtown is rampant, and one of the problems for many tenants is dealing with the drug traffic, violence, prostituion getting inside the buildings and off of the streets, outside.

[PSU Progressive Student Union, like Chomsky and many other Left activists, opposes the Drug War, whether under the Bush or the Obama administrations].

While much of Central City Concern's marketing stresses 'transitional' housing for poor and homeless folks, these SRO buildings actually house a fair number of long-term tenants (one TRP organizer, Joe, has been in CCC housing, the Biltmore, for almost 20 years -- others have been tenants in SRO/CCC rooms for 14 years, 9 years, 9 years, etc. -- not 'transitional' housing at all). One CCC manager (also fired this year, in response to TRP organizing) told SRO tenants that 'tenants aren't allowed to ask questions about the CCC budget' and that 'SRO tenants can't request repairs to the common areas of such buildings' -- like community coed bathrooms, kitchens or walls in the hallways. This now-fired manager also said that tenants who were buying a can of RAID a week to spray the community coed bathroom, kitchens and walls in the hallways to fight the roaches -- could not be reimbursed under Oregon landlord-tenant law 'habitability' or 'livability' provisions, or 'repair and deduct.'

The Jan. 10, 2010, community forum is expected to have reps from the Portland Police Department, Office of Neighborhood Services, Sisters of the Road, as well as be open to tenants.

A second gambit by this 'nonprofit' landlord has been to create a quasi-Tenants Council (but, not elected, not posted or publicized, and not open to tenants at their meetings). Tenant Rights Project, in fall, 2008, and twice since, has submitted a 12-point demand letter to the CCC board members (mostly corporate and real estate types). One of those demands is to create a Tenants Council, elected by tenants and open to tenants, for all 23 buildings. CCC's $100,000 per year CEO, Ed Blackburn, has stated 'CCC will never have a tenants council.' Instead, by invitation/secret recruitment only, Central City has now created (fall, 2009) something called the RQIC, Resident Quality Improvement Council. Again, not elected, with closed meetings, and by (landlord) invitation only (apparently, at a secret location). One building manager states that both Butte and Biltmore buildings had secret tenants attend the first meeting of this entity, the RQIC, but that the meetings are not publicized or posted, and tenants can't attend (regular tenants, that is).

Tenant Rights Project has been communicating with Community Alliance of Tenants over the course of the past year, and CAT has indicated that the closed board meetings (and presumably, secret conservative tenant group, RQIC) are in violation of Oregon Attorney General John Kroger rules re Open Meetings Law.

Some tenant organizers believe that 'crime' as an issue tends to be 'argued' or 'spun' (like pest control, in terms of CCC marketing and PR tactics) as something which is the 'fault' of tenants, ipso facto. By focusing on crime, this may indeed bolster landlords who do nothing, or, whose only response may be, more police. It benefits landlords to have tenants fight other tenants over who are the 'bad tenants,' etc.

In light of longstanding and recent Portland police activities (one PSU Progressive Student Union slogan now is "We are James Chasse"), having the cops increase their presence in low-income, poor people's housing may be problematic, at best. In the case of pest control, 'blaming the tenants' is one way for landlords to claim lack of responsbility vis-a-vis Oregon Landlord-Tenant Law (which does exist, but has to be enforced, not just lie dormant in a statute book, etc.).

Tenant Rights Project organizers have talked twice at Portland City Council in 2009, but housing commissioner (who is liberal and progressive), Nick Fish, only praises CCC management, and in fact, urged donors to 'dig deep' and financially support CCC at a November 2008 Governor Hotel fundraiser, for a new $10,000,000 fund (which CCC CEO Ed Blackburn says is earmarked for 'other projects' -- not for improving habitability or living conditions in CCC's 23 buildings). Fish himself, on city council, has refused five times to meet in person with Tenant Rights Project organizers to discuss these issues. Instead, Fish met with two CCC managers (Blackburn, CEO, and Tracy Manning, the CCC COO) before even listening to tenants at council, then interrupted tenant organizers (twice, so far) declaring, variously, that 'he had already come up with a three point solution' (before even listening to tenants) or, that tenants were using 'harsh language' to criticize his pet, or favored, nonprofit landlord, Central City Concern. Tenants have made up buttons which critique CCC's whole marketing strategy, which say "Central City Unconcerned."

While tenant organizers and tenants are prohibited from attending either the CCC board meetings or the new meetings of the secret, special tenant society -- organizers have found some financial information about CCC finances, even as Fish, Blackburn and CCC's lawyer continue to maintain there is no money. In fact, at the last Sunday night (open TRP meeting!), CCC's lawyer announced "I'm not coming to another one of these meetings until the Jan. 10th forum" because "tenant organizers are misrepresenting what I said" on Indymedia. When asked for an exmple, the CCC lawywer claimed he never said that "$33,000,000 is nothing." $33,000,000 is CCC's annual budget, and CCC officials maintain more of that money cannot be used to improve or address problems in the buildings. Tenant organizers told the lawyer the quote was accurate, and his denial was a lie. The CCC lawyer basically stated that unless he could be 'in charge' of the Sunday night meetings, he wouldn't attend them again until Jan. 10, 2010, when he hoped to have Portland police officials participate in that community forum. [To be fair, the lawyer kept saying 'these are your meetings' when not saying he wasn't going to attend more of them unless his deands were met. The lawyer did say he had been personally asked by CCC CEO Ed Blackburn to start coming to the open, TRP meetings, this fall].

Another CCC manager stated she felt that the lawyer's statements were miscategorized, or mischaracterized, in an IndyMedia article, when the lawyer said "I don't know" why CCC CEO Ed Blackburn himself (when asked by the lawyer) refused to attend one of the Sunday night (open tenant) meetings. This CCC manager was told that, in fact, that is what the lawyer said -- that he 'didn't know' why Blackburn didn't want to talk at the open Sunday night meetings to Tenant Rights Project organizers. The CCC manager said that 'made it sound' like the lawyer was evasive, but, tenants pointed out that was what the CCC lawyer did say.

In terms of the budget, Central City has:
-- $33,000,000 annual budget
-- $25,000,000 capital remodel project on the Ramada at Lloyd Center
(CCC hired a Schwabe, Williamson attorney to attempt to not pay prevailing wages
to union workers on this project, but BOLI's ALJ kept ruling against CCC, and
required CCC to pay prevailing wage for it -- CCC finally stopped appealing this)
-- $10,000,000 (new fund which CCC Ed Blackburn says is 'out on projects' and can't be used
for pest control, tenting and fumigating buildings, etc. This is the fund Nick
Fish did fundraising for in Nov. 2008 at Governor Hotel. (Sources: interview
with Blackburn, Nov. 2008; Business Journal article; and CCC Employee Newsletter).
-- $1,000,000 allocated this fall by Portland City Council for recovery program to CCC
(this was right after Fish and Blackburn sent the other four city council members
and Tenant Rights Project, along with Andy Miller, Deputy Dir. of the Portland
Housing Bureau, a 10-page report denying all claims by Tenant Rights Project
as 'unfair and misrepresentative').
-- $9,000,000 Dec. 2009 Oregonian article reports on front page that CCC gets Obama stimulus
money to build health clinic on Burnside and Broadway on the old Burger King site.

[Lew Church is Coordinator of PSU Progressive Student Union, and an organizer for Tenant Rights Project. More detalils:  lewchurch@gmail.com or 503-222-2974].


phone: phone: 503-222-2974
address: address: PO Box 40011, Portland, Oregon 97240