We the People of Portland: Responding Boldly to Our Housing State of Emergency

Paul Cienfuegos’ October 4th, 2016 Commentary on KBOO Evening News


(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes. Listen to this one HERE.)


Greetings! You are listening to the Community Rights Report by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos, bringing you stories of We the People reclaiming our power to govern ourselves and ending the absurdity of corporations exercising constitutional “rights”.


We Portlanders love our city. But major changes are coming, and many of us are very upset about those changes. I’m talking about the fact that Portland has the #1 tightest rental housing market of any major city in the US, that Portland rents are rising at a breathtaking pace, and thousands of us are being displaced because landlords can evict renters with no cause, which translates into ever growing numbers of homeless people. And that hundreds of perfectly good homes are being demolished by developers to make way for new monster homes.


These changes will inevitably destroy the very qualities of our city that so many of us have worked so hard to create over many decades, so it’s no wonder that it feels like an emergency situation to many of us. And yet, most of us feel both hopeless and powerless that these changes can be stopped. We need to come up with a truly expansive and courageous strategy and vision quickly to stop the destruction of our beloved city, and I honestly believe we Portlanders are capable of doing this.


There are some wonderful organizations already mobilizing residents to respond to this housing crisis, such as Portland Tenants United and the Community Alliance of Tenants. My fear is that the tactics and strategies being employed by these and other social justice groups are not properly scaled for the critical challenge we face. Rallies and marches and pickets and home occupations can only go so far as a response to the ongoing no-cause evictions, massive rent increases and demolitions. Why? Because everything the developers and demolishers are doing is fully protected by law, whereas what concerned residents want is actually in opposition to those existing laws. Why? Because our nation was founded on the idea that those who own property have more constitutionally protected rights than those who do not own property.


Who gets to decide whether a perfectly fine home is going to be bulldozed to make way for a monster home that’s totally out of character with the existing neighborhood? The person or corporation that owns the property – that’s who. Even a majority of neighborhood residents have no constitutionally protected rights in this situation at all. And who gets to decide whether a decent long-term tenant is going to lose their housing when property values go up? The person or corporation that owns the rental property. Again, those who rent homes or apartments have no constitutionally protected rights in this situation at all. In a democratic republic based on majority rule, this makes absolutely no sense, so We the People of Portland need to stand up collectively and change this absurd situation. And we actually can.


If in fact tens of thousands of Portlanders already believe that this is an emergency situation, then let’s mobilize ourselves the way the people of other nations do all the time. If we really are serious about protecting the qualities of Portland that make it so special, we have no time to lose.


Why haven’t we already begun to do this? Because we are told that cities do not have the authority to pass local laws that prohibit no-cause evictions or massive rent increases or the demolition of perfectly fine homes – only state legislatures can do that. And in the conventional way of thinking about law, that’s actually true. But that’s only because we have forgotten what the proper relationship is between We the People and our government, which is constitutionally required to serve us, which has duties and responsibilities to us.


Don’t believe me? Let’s review the first paragraph of our Oregon State Constitution. Here’s an excerpt:

Article 1: Bill of Rights

Section 1: Natural Rights Inherent in People

…[A]ll power is inherent in the people, … and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.


So let’s stop pleading with our local and state elected officials to save us, and let’s start exercising our constitutional authority to respond boldly to this emergency situation in our beloved city. In cooperation with our existing tenants rights groups and other social justice organizations, let’s draft an emergency Portland ballot initiative that bans no-cause evictions and prohibits landlords from drastically raising the rent. And as we mobilize ourselves, let’s think about other related urgent issues that we might choose to include, like protecting the rights of homeless people, the rights of people in home foreclosures, the rights of neighborhood majorities, and the rights of heritage trees. We have the knowledge and the will to draft a ‘Housing Bill of Rights’ to bring to Portland voters.


Imagine how quickly we could protect our city, under law, if thousands of Portlanders got involved. What do you think? I want to hear from you. Please contact me. Thank you!


You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.


You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for.

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