Southern Oregon Tenants’ Union Pickets Against Rent Increase

by Staff Writer: Jesse Eells-Adams

Photo by: Michelle Glass

Southern Oregon Tenants’ Union (SOTU) held a picket in solidarity with tenants and community members at the Mariposa townhomes in Medford, Wednesday at 4:30 PM. The complex was bought in September of 2017 by Ronald DeLuca, who then notified the renters of a rent increase upwards of 45%, effective as of March 1, 2018.

Many Mariposa tenants moved out in advance of this increase, and several remaining tenants are now facing the prospect of homelessness with a lack of housing opportunity elsewhere.

“It’s an awareness campaign,” Medford City Council member Kevin Stine said of the picket. “What it’s really doing is putting pressure to power. This is real life for a lot of people, people who are living on Social Security or retirement, who don’t have the ability to pay hundreds more dollars a month for rent. In the valley, it’s not like there’s other options available to them.”

Mariposa On-Site Manager Matt Stranahan has been working with a handful of tenants at the complex to find them new housing since the rent increase was announced last Nov. Stranahan was present at the picket on Wednesday.

“The market is swollen,” said Stranahan. “There’s been quite a few people I’ve been working with that are moving out because of the rent increase. I’ve worked with ten people to relocate them.”

“The real issue is we have a low supply of new units that are being rented for residential dwellings on a month to month basis,” Stranahan added. “There’s new condos and communities being built for suburban housing. Not new rentals. There’s an issue with zoning,” he concluded.

“Every good protest needs to have an end message,” said Stine. “What is the long term goal? What kind of change do you want to see? Telling greedy people to stop being greedy is just not going to happen.”

Another tenant’s rights group, Southern Oregon Housing For All (SOHFA), will soon be focused on lobbying for Relocation Assistance for renters, a tenant-protection ordinance which would require landlords to help pay moving costs in the case of a no-cause eviction or high rent increase. Relocation Assistance has been implemented elsewhere in Oregon, notably in a trial run in Portland that lasts through April 6, 2018.

Will Southern Oregon see its own version of Relocation Assistance? According to Stine, in the Medford City Council’s “current makeup it is very unlikely to happen…but we have an election in November, and maybe voters want people that support that measure.”

Even if in the current political climate it seems unlikely to pass a tenant-protection ordinance such as relocation assistance, that does not make it impossible. “Getting people talking, putting it in the paper,” said Stine, is one way to encourage discussion. “People listen, especially politicians. I look at the front page, then I look at the opinions page. Nothing is possible unless you introduce it and speak for it and argue why it should happen. I’m fine having that discussion with the Medford City Council.”

Southern Oregon is facing a housing crisis. Jesse Sharpe, who works for Community Alliance of Tenants said “The most recent data from the Oregon Department of Education puts Medford with the highest K-12 homelessness rates of any metro, with nearly 10% of the k-12 student population experiencing homelessness. At the end of the day, we’re sitting at about five times the national average when it comes to childhood homelessness, which is disgraceful.”

We’re in a state of emergency right now. A lot of folks are one paycheck away from not meeting rent and the rents are going up at record rates. Our safety nets are all riddled with massive holes and entire families are falling through. What’s sickening about it all is that keeping the vacancies low and the rents high means more profit for landlords and developers,” said Sharpe.

The problem for renters is one of power inequality. “The people who get hit hardest in this crisis are the same people who are systemically disempowered: survivors of domestic violence, people of color, low wage workers, young folk, seniors, people with disability, etc.,” explained Sharpe. Groups like CAT, SOTU, and SOHFA are actively organizing on behalf of renters in Southern Oregon and beyond, and are open to public participation and volunteering opportunities.

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