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Push for rent freeze in Portland, OR

By staff |
March 21, 2020
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Portland, OR - The Portland Rent Freeze Coalition, made up of concerned people and progressive organizations, disrupted a COVID-19 response press conference on March 17 here in Portland to demand that all rent payments due during the statewide shutdown be cancelled.

Multnomah County announced the night before the press conference, that it would be enacting an eviction moratorium during the crisis. The measure puts the thousands of laid off workers of Portland in a serious predicament. The legislation says that all rent not paid during the moratorium will have to be paid back in full during a six-month ‘grace period’ after the state of emergency is lifted.

The coalition formed out of a COVID19 mutual aid Facebook group that had been made in the previous week. Some members in the group created a petition to freeze all rent payments due to the massive number of workers in the city losing their income after a statewide shut down of most industries. The petition gained a lot of support in the following days, gathering 19,000 signatures by the time of the press conference.

After the announcement of the eviction moratorium, the petition organizers quickly put together a small group that intended to disrupt the press conference, make their demands and deliver a printed copy of the petition including all 19,000 signatures. In order to encourage social distancing, the direct action was limited to five people, while another organizer reached out to the petition signers via email to encourage them to watch the live stream of the event and flood it with messages in support of the rent freeze petition.

The press conference was mostly by mainstream media personnel, and some community activists. When the floor was opened for questions an activist representing the coalition took the podium from Mayor Wheeler, read our demands, and delivered the signed petition. There was loud support in the room from the few community members present and the livestream filled with comments boldly condemning the city's half-measure and demanding a Portland rent freeze. The coalition representative ended their speech by leading the chant "Flatten the curve! Freeze the rent!" The conference was abruptly ended after multiple unaffiliated activists refused to let the event proceed if the panel did not address the demands.

The petition gained momentum after the press conference livestream and as of the writing of this article has gathered 29,000 signatures. Other cities across the country have used the language from the Portland coalition's petition and are organizing similar campaigns and actions. The demand for a rent freeze during this time is something all progressives and activists should support and take up as their own, and the petition and actions of the Portland Rent Freeze coalition are free to replicate in any city during this crisis.