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Julio Vasquez, a board member of notorious downtown slumlord, Central City Concern, was set to join an activist panel at a housing forum held at Sea Change Gallery but never showed up. Vasquez, in spring, 2009, defended the CCC board of directors refusing to let tenants attend board meetings (or speak at them) and the board minutes being secret.
Julio Vasquez, a member of the secretive slumlord board of directors of Central City Concern (tenant activists have printed up buttons which say, "Central City Unconcerned" with pest control problem cartoon characters), failed to show up for a housing forum hosted by Public Social Univeristy (an NGO) at the Sea Change Gallery in the Pearl recently.

Brandon Phillips, representing Sisters of the Road, did appear and talked about the newest Sisters project, initiating a Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and Organizing, out of Sisters of the Road. Brandon also gave three other organizers, after his opening remarks at the housing forum, a ride to the Albina Ministerial Alliance community meeting at a black church in north Portland to protest the police shooting of unarmed Aaron Campbell, held that same night.

Tom Hastings, a Conflict Resolution teacher at PSU, has presented workshops on pacifism at Sisters of the Road in the past. Hastings self-published a book criticizing Ward Churchill's book, Pacifism as Pathology. In classes, Hastings famously says that Che Guevarra, Portland's Ben Linder, and dictators like Hitler all are in the same category of violence-generation, because 'they all carry a gun.' Only pacifism is the 'correct' form of protest (or the 'effective' form), Hastings asserts.

In terms of the housing forum itself, however, Brandon did talk about the recent protest march and rally in San Francisco (I was in the van that Brandon drove to SF) for decent, affordable housing and for "houses not handcuffs." The housing protest march in S.F. was on Market Street in late January, and delivered a protest letter to Nancy Pelosi's office.

The 40 Portland protesters who went to the SF march and rally also stopped the night before in Ashland, where Brandon talked at a housing forum there, as well. Before leaving Ashland that next morning, Portland protesters assisted/constituted most of a picket of anti-66 and 67 US Bank at that corporation's Ashland office, taping a protest letter for the manager on the drive-up window.

Other speakers at the Sea Change housing forum addressed squatting and radical action to 'take over' housing for the houseless.


Tenant Rights Project organizers asked about being on the housing panel with CCC's board director Vasquez (who works at Sisters of the Road, but doesn't tell folks that he is on the CCC slumlord board of directors), but was told by Public Social University organizer (Judy) that there were too many speakers and not enough time, already, on the agenda. Since we (once again!) weren't going to be allowed to speak, some of us went with Brandon to the police accountability forum that night at the north Portland AMA church.

During 2009 and 2010, Tenant Rights Project organizers (primarily from the Butte and Biltmore SRO 'wet' buildings -- CCC has 23 buildings, 1400 tenants and a $33,000,000 annual budget) have talked several times to Portland City Council, and sent three demand letters to the CCC board of directors re:

--persistent pest control problems (cockroaches, mice, bedbugs)
--crime and safety issues
--manager kickbacks and harassment of tenants
--lack of transparency and accountability by the CCC board: meetings are closed to tenants, tenants
aren't allowed to speak (therefore) at CCC board meetings, and the CCC board minutes are secret
(which Street Roots says is illegal, under AG John Kroger rules)

In response to TRP's campaign, however, Housing Commissioner Nick Fish (running for reelection in the May primary against transit activist Jason Barbour, who has attended a Tenant Rights Project meeting) and CCC CEO (at $100,000 per year, each -- the salaries of both Fish and of Blackburn)... Fish and Blackburn sent a 10-page blurb/packet to Tenant Rights Project and to the other four city commissioners, and to a Housing Bureau manager. TRP, in turn, sent a 7 page packet in response back to the five city council members, and to Blackburn (along with CCC 21-years-and-counting [a real estate lawyer] CCC board president, Dean Gisvold, and the CCC board members whose addresses organizers have found)

In the Fish/Blackburn PR document, basically they allege that tenant organizers "misrepresent" the problems and that all issues, in sections, crime/bugs/board transparency/ and other issues -- "have been addressed." The 10-page blurb doesn't assert these problems have been solved or fixed, only that they seem to exist in the imagination of the tenants, somewhere.

The gist is that because CCC is a "partner" for city council on crime, on clean and sober, on streets, on moving crime into buildings and off the streets -- that, so far, Fish and this city council is unwilling to challenge CCC on their systemic violations of Oregon Landlord-Tenant Law's habitability and livability provisions.

Tenant organizers have posted stories on IndyMedia, got an expose by Mercury freelancer Jake Thomas printed in spring, 2009, and done Jo Ann Bowman's KBOO Radio program, critiquing CCC practices and PR rhetoric. When CCC is asked (they also have about $50,000,000 in capital projects, in addition to $33,000,000 annual budget) about repairs and pest remediation (tenting and fumigating buildings, for example) CCC reps are quick to exclaim "there is no money for that, all the money is out on projects."

One former CCC manager, Ryan Lilly, since fired, who was responsible for 11 of the 23 buildings, used to tell SRO tenants that "you can't ask questions about the CCC budget." Lilly also told tenants they weren't allowed to ask for repairs or pest control in the community coed bathrooms, kitchens or the walls in the hallways of the SRO buildings -- which is a violation of Oregon Landlord Tenant Law (in SRO buildings, tenants rent the common spaces not just their closet-sized rental units). Lilly also told tenants they would not be "reimbursed" under 'repair and deduct' provisions of Oregon's landlord tenant law, if, for example, they bought their own weekly can of RAID to kill bugs, for 52 weeks a year, that the CCC slumlord opeartion was ignoring.

So far, two CCC managers have been fired, one before and one after tenants picketed the CCC admin office on the corner of NW Sixth and Everett streets. More pickets are planned.

Tenant Rights Project organizers believe that Sisters of the Road (itself a business/ nonprofit 'tenant' of Central City Concern (Butte tenants are on floors 2 and 3 of the same building that houses Sisters) has been a longtime venue for activism and organizing in Portland, and that Brandon Phillips has been a good organizer since he took over for the sit-lie Sisters organizers who was fired in 2009.

However, as anti-war SDS students from Reed and Lewis and Clark have noted, along with some feminist Portland organizers, Tom Hastings and the "pacifism only" philosophy seems to leave out much of the Global South or Third World where pacifism isn't an option.

Brandon explained his own preference for pacificsm in terms of a sister of his who stopped organizing because of concerns about/frustrations with anarchist or black bloc organizers in a number of cities 'taking over' rallies or issues (like the shooting of Aaron Campbell, locally in Portland, now).

However, we are aware of radical activists to the Left of Sisters and Brandon (and certainly to the Left of the slumlord board director Julio Vasquez!) who either applied for the job Brandon got, or feel that providing housing that is economical and safe is a far better priority than simply creating real estate boondoggles or capital-intensive housing that doesn't really serve the homeless populaton adequately in big urban U.S. cities -- and that these critics of Sisters or of Brandon simply feel that Sisters (despite the great PR rep of both it and of CCC itself) simply doesn't organize militantly enough to effectively fix the decent housing problem which slumlords like CCC maintain, or the expensive, real estate-focused housing that benefits corporations but not enough poor and low-income folks looking to be housed instead of being houseless.


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

small point - and thanks for report 12.Mar.2010 14:43

Ben Waiting

(regarding) Mercury freelancer Jake Thomas

(Jake I think... works for the Portland Observer not the Mercury)