Study: Property complaints higher in BIPOC neighborhoods

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A study from the City of Portland’s Auditor’s Office indicates that residents of racially diverse and gentrified areas receive disproportionately more property maintenance complaints compared to other Portland neighborhoods.

The ombudsman’s office, a division of Portland City Auditor’s Office, analyzed maintenance complaints from 2013 to 2018 on owner-occupied properties. Between those years, the properties received 15,227 complaints, or about 2,500 complaints per year, according to the ombudsman’s office.

Listeners determined that the most racially diverse and gentrifying neighborhoods had the most complaints.

“The results showed statistically significant disparate effects on communities of color, which is probably not surprising given the historical roots of complaints enforcement,” the ombudsman’s office said.

The municipal auditor’s rules for home maintenance range from landscaping to items placed in the driveways. Despite the type of violation – whether based on aesthetics or public safety – all violations are punishable by a fine of the same amount, the ombudsman’s office said.

Complaints relating to the maintenance of the property in Developmental Services Office are investigated by a municipal inspector. If the inspector identifies a violation, he notifies the landlord and gives them a deadline to meet the city’s compliance standards. If the standard is not met, the owner is liable to a fine and lien on the property, making the property more difficult to sell, refinance, or become eligible for a loan.

The report showed the impacts of the liens, illustrated by a homeowner who ended up with nearly $ 30,000 in performance liens for failing to respond to neighbors’ complaints about paint chipping.

Another case showed a 79-year-old blind veteran who received more than $ 88,000 in performing privileges after complaints about tall grass and the storage of a boat and vehicles on his property.

Homeowners across Portland currently owe $ 10.5 million in unpaid enforcement privileges, according to the ombudsman’s office.

“It got so bad I just gave up because the fines were piling up so quickly they were going to lock me in,” said Bruce Cushman, a northeast Portland resident.

Cushman nearly lost his home to fines that began for deteriorated siding and a shattered window, which snowballed to $ 120,000.

Living on less than $ 1,000 a month from Social Security, Cushman says he couldn’t afford to pay the fines and for a while and was physically unable to make the repairs.

After working with the city, Cushman was able to reduce his lien to around $ 6,000 and avoid foreclosure.

“This is almost exclusively a complaints-driven system, with neighbors and passers-by filing confidential reports which are investigated by city inspectors,” said the city’s auditor. Portland, Mary Hull-Caballero.

According to the ombudsman’s office, community members and city inspectors have “raised concerns” about the complaints-based enforcement system, as it has been shown to disproportionately affect this system. which they call “Portland’s most economically vulnerable landowners” and communities of color.

The city report claims that of the 94 neighborhoods analyzed in the study, these 10 had the highest complaint rates:

Woodland park
Mount Scott-Arleta
Vernon
Lent
Brentwood-Darlington
Foster-Powell
Wooded
Portsmouth
Kenton
Buckman Community

City auditors say the findings run counter to Portland’s equity goals of eliminating “racial disparities in government,” the ombudsman’s office said.

“This is an example of an enforcement system that seems fair at first glance but ends up weighing on some Portlanders more than others,” Hull-Caballero said.

Hull-Caballero also pointed to Oregon’s historic roots in housing discrimination, saying “the city needs to be vigilant about analyzing the results and removing laws that were put in place long ago. to favor the richest white owners “.

The report also shows that areas where these complaints are more severely enforced are also disproportionately affected by climate change, poorer health outcomes and do not benefit from government subsidies.

The ombudsman’s office recommends that development departments eliminate the complaints-based policy and should engage with affected communities “to get their recommendations on changes to the property maintenance code and identify a mechanism for it. fair application and an appropriate source of funding that does not rely on fines and privileges. Hull-Caballero said.

Commissioner Dan Ryan and the Office of Development Services say they are working to implement the recommendations of the office. “We are committed to achieving fair results and dismantling systemic racism in its systems, processes and services, including our property maintenance code and our code enforcement systems,” Ryan said.

In a letter to the municipal commissioners and to Hull-Caballero, the City of Portland Equity and Human Rights Office said the report “illustrates one facet of a systemically oppressed structure linked to homeownership,” and also endorsed the city auditor’s recommendations, citing EHR’s commitment to implement ” anti-racist strategies “.


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