An analysis by a Portland city watchdog found that complaints about property maintenance have been highly concentrated in the city’s most diverse and rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.
The report from the city ombudsman’s office made public Wednesday showed that neighborhoods with some of the fastest-rising home prices, and those with the most racially diverse residents, tend to also face the most financial consequences for property violations like overgrown grass, trash in a yard or a deteriorating building.
It suggests that the code enforcements could disproportionally affect residents of color and contribute to displacement.
Residents who are found to be in violation of city property rules can face escalating fines or end up with a code enforcement lien attached to the property that’s been deemed out of compliance. That could put the resident at risk of foreclosure.
The analysis showed that the number of property maintenances complaints was higher in neighborhoods with higher percentages of people of color, an increase in median home price between 2013 and 2017, and a larger percentage of the population below the poverty level.
But the number of complaints was lower in neighborhoods where the home cost per square foot was higher, the median household income was higher, and there was greater access to public transit and bike paths.
The ombudsman’s office tracked the number of complaints per 100 households in each of Portland’s 94 neighborhoods. They also tracked the number of liens per 100 households.
The neighborhoods with the highest numbers of complaints were: Woodland Park, with 29.55 complaints per 100 households; Mt. Scott-Arleta, with 23.97; Vernon, with 22.24; Lents, with 20.94; Brentwood-Darlington, with 20.65; Foster-Powell, with 19.43; Portsmouth, with 18.47; and Kenton, with 18.17.
Bridgeton, the Lloyd District, Old Town, Hayden Island, Sunderland and the Pearl District all had zero complaints. Downtown had 0.45 complaints per 100 households, Northwest Heights had 0.99, and Forest Park had 2.
Rebecca Esau, director of the city Bureau of Development Services, and Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the bureau, said in a letter that they agreed with the findings and would begin looking for alternatives to the complaint-driven system. They also said they, along with the Portland Housing Bureau, would look into financial resources to help low-income homeowners with health and safety-related home repairs.
Esau and Ryan said their bureau was already making efforts to address the disparities created by some of the city’s code enforcement fees by loosening the requirements for people to qualify for a lien reduction on their property and by increasing the lien reduction for low income and disabled property owners from 50% to 100%.
The city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights also responded to the report, noting the disparate impact of racist policies on homeowners of color.
“The current report on BDS Property Maintenance illustrates one facet of a systemically oppressed structure connected to home ownership,” wrote Dr. Markisha Webster, director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights. “The Office of Equity respectfully asks City Council to digest the contents of this report and use it to shape the direction of services specific to property maintenance for Black, Indigenous and communities of color in Portland.”