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Housing authority: Low-income rents rising

PORTLAND — Low-income tenants in Portland are faced with an unprecedented number of rent increases after the City Council passed new rules intended to protect renters, housing authority officials said.

The Portland City Council approved new renter protections last month in response to record-high rent increases and record-low vacancy rates, reported The Oregonian. Landlords now have to provide more notice of a rent increase or a no-cause eviction.

Housing advocates worried that landlords would rush to raise rents and evict tenants before the rules took effect Nov. 13, and new numbers from Multnomah County's housing authority Home Forward show that may have happened to some of the people who can least afford it.

Most Section 8 voucher holders will see rent increases this year, according to Home Forward executive director Michael Buonocore. He said.

The organization oversees thousands of its own apartments, but nearly two-thirds of its clients live in privately owned units and pay some or all of the rent with Section 8 vouchers.

Landlords in the program have to get approval from Home Forward before raising rents, and the agency approves such requests as long as the rents are in line with others in the area.

Buonocore said the housing authority saw a flood of requests after Oct. 15, two days after the City Council vote. The agency said it has received 489 requests since then. The next-highest monthly total was 389 requests in April 2012.

Buonocore said there's been a three-year trend of rising rents, but "this year is higher," with more than 3,000 requests so far.

"I've never seen where we've had the majority of our owners raise the rent," said Dena Ford-Avery, who has worked with Home Forward for nearly 28 years.

Federal subsidies cover the increase if a landlord raises the rent on a Section 8 tenant. But they typically only cover up to the federal cap, which Ford-Avery said is three years behind actual values. Tenants have to make up the different or move.

But "even if they wanted to move," said Ford-Avery, "the availability of other rentals is very limited."

Home Forward is working with Washington State University and regional governments to get better rent data and then will ask federal officials to raise rent caps, according to Buonocore.

He said there are also about 300 voucher-holders who can't find anywhere to rent and an additional 700 who have been waiting three years for a voucher.